The Trap – Book Review

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There are books you read that are entertaining, and then there are books that are so captivating you cannot put them down. The Trap is definitely the latter. It took me only about a week to devour the 281 pages, and I already feel like I could read it again (not to mention watch it as a movie).

If you haven’t heard of it before, the blurb is this:

Twelve years ago, Linda Conrads’ sister Anna was brutally murdered. Her killer was never identified, but Linda glimpsed his face as he escaped.
Now, all these years later, she’s just seen him again, on TV.
He’s become a well-known journalist, and Linda – a famous novelist and notorious recluse – knows no one will believe her if she accuses him.
So she sets a trap for him, writing a thriller called Blood Sisters about the unsolved murder of a young woman.
And agrees to give just one interview.
At home.
To the only person who knows more about the case than she does…
But is he really the killer – or is she losing her mind?

Are you hooked yet? I was. Through the Text Publishing website, I found a list of new books they had coming out, and snapped it up when it was at my local store. This is the debut for author Melanie Raabe, and if this is any indication of what she can churn out, I can’t wait to read more of her stuff.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will say that this book is full of twists and turns, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, you’re thrown another curve ball.

I would recommend The Trap to anyone, and want to know what you think of it.

4 out of 5 stars

Debug (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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I love David Hewlett. I have loved him since seeing him on Stargate all those years ago, and I even got an autograph from him once. So, when I heard he was making another film, I just had to check it out. Having seen bits and pieces of his process (from youtube, twitter postings, etc.), I still didn’t know what to expect. Well I needn’t have worried, because Hewlett has made an epic film and I have given it a rightful score of 4/5.

Debug is a film that follows six 20-something year old computer hackers whose job sends them aboard a broken and abandoned space freighter. But it is not as empty as they thought. The hackers are forced to fight for their lives against an AI (artificial intelligence) that is desperate to become human, and will kill for the chance.

Having been a fan and a part of science fiction projects before, David Hewlett has seen how it is done, and he knows how to improve upon it. Debug is an awesome film that is scary, intelligent, and one you can’t miss.

The casting was also brilliant, bringing a mix of known-actors and fairly-newcomers. Like with his first film A Dog’s Breakfast, Hewlett has been able to get actors and actresses he has worked with before to take on these new roles. Jason Momoa (who plays the AI), is the same as we have seen him before – i.e. a fighting baddie – but still different to what he has done before. His growing popularity from Game of Thrones should also help bring more viewers as well. Kate Hewlett (David’s acting sister) is also brilliant, and it is awesome to see the siblings working on another film project together.

Hewlett has also written a smart script. It deals with current issues and worries we have about technology and where the line then comes between human and machine.

It does have some violence and blood, but it shouldn’t be enough to dissuade anyone from watching it.

With the reach and reliance on social media growing more and more everyday, Hewlett has grabbed hold of this and really connected with his fans. He has talked about the film – which he is rightfully excited about – and has made everyone feel as though they have been included in the process. This makes you more inclined to see it.

There have not been many reviews yet, but what is out there have been quite mixed. It may not be the newest idea – Hewlett said he watched 2001: A Space Odyssey when he was younger and wanted to make a film from Al’s perspective – but Hewlett has made enough changes to make it different and relatable to viewers of this generation.

There are no two ways about it: you must see this film. Hewlett has done a brilliant job of transitioning behind the camera, and he knows what he is doing. Check it out and be entertained!

4 out of 5 stars

A Walk Among The Tombstones (2014) – Review

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No, this is not another Taken film, but it does seem close. This film is darker than that franchise, and is an improvement that shows off its star – Liam Neeson’s – immense talent even more. It is an old-school action film, and Neeson is plain and simply awesome.

A Walk Among the Tombstones: Neeson is Matt Scudder, a former cop turned private eye. After first refusing the job, Scudder finally agrees to help a known drug dealer find the men that not only kidnapped his wife, but killed her after the ransom had been paid. Scudder soon learns that this is not the first time the group have done this, and when they kidnap another girl, he sets out to find them and make them pay.

Any review on this film should begin with: Liam Neeson is awesome. There is no denying it. He has been very kick-ass in his film role choices, and he more than deserves all of the roles he has been getting lately – not to mention all of the attention. He is not just a brilliant action-genre actor, but has shown over the years that he can pretty much play any role they throw at him. With A Walk Among the Tombstones, he is more than capable of turning a generic good-guy-bad-guy action film into something more than just entertaining.

However, the film couldn’t be as good as it is without a good script. The story – based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Block – is full of moments of suspense and plot twists that make the finished product more than just shooting and car chases.

The look and feel of the film is gritty and noir-esque, which makes it more interesting. The director Scott Frank (who also wrote the screenplay for the film) hasn’t done as much directing work as he has done writing work, but with the cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr., they have created something striking.

It is not usual for films made from books to be successful, but this one is doing quite well for itself. It has been a long time in the making – since around 2002 – and it was back then said that Harrison Ford was originally going to play the lead. Ford is a great actor too, but the novel’s author had always pictured Neeson among his top choices for the lead character.

Reviews have been adequately positive. There has been much praise for Neeson’s acting, the directing, and the script. The cliche aspects have also been criticised, though its improvements of the story and perfecting of the genre have compensated for this.

Action films have always been popular, and A Walk Among the Tombstones is an action film done right. Parents and guardians might not want to have it on while their kids are in the room – due to the violence, etc. – but it’s nothing overly gory. Enjoy!

4 out of 5 stars

Earth to Echo (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Earth to Echo is one of those films where you watch the trailer and see the poster and you honestly do not know what to expect. The poster, for some reason, reminded me of Wall-E, while the trailers reminded me more of Super 8 and E.T. None of these things are bad, but film is a medium where audiences always want something fresh and new. For me, Earth to Echo was different enough to make it entertaining, but this probably will not be the same for every viewer.

One would think the film to be about zombies when you see the way these tweens are addicted to their phones. Not quite. When a group of misfit kids start getting strange text messages and their phones glitch and go screwy, they decide to try and work out what is happening. They manage to decrypt a map, and, with their cameras and GoPros, etc., all turned on, they head for the centre of the disturbance. It is there that they discover an alien – which they name Echo – and find themselves protecting the harmless creature while running from the encroaching authorities.

There are more good then bad aspects of this film, so I will get the bad over with first. I do not know how many more ‘found footage’ films can be made. Surely everyone else is bored with it too? This is essentially a little-kid version of a ‘found footage’ film, however some of the story makes it seem rather inappropriate for kids. Parts of the film involved drinking and underage partying, so parents need to do their homework before deciding to show this to their kids.

Now the good parts. The visual effects were pretty good. I have seen a lot worse, and I could not really find fault with these. Echo was interesting, and who can forget the disassembling and reassembling of the truck?

The script was both funny and clever, with interesting dialogue that sounded real-enough, and not overly fake.

The kid actors did a good job too. None were ‘known’ actors that you had seen everywhere, so it is refreshing to see new talent. They have a good chance at a future in the industry.

Reviews have been pretty mixed. Some see it as good entertainment that will keep the kids happy, with the parents reminded of their childhood and watching E.T. Other reviews have not been as welcoming. With so many similar films that have large fan followings, it is easy to see why some reviewers have been harsher and more protective of previous works.

There are always going to be positive and negative reviews for every film, and the main thing is to check them out for yourself. Earth to Echo is a surprisingly enjoyable film that is intelligently written and should not only keep the kids entertained, but also the parents and guardians who watch it with them.

4 out of 5 stars

Draft Day (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Kevin Costner is back, and he has picked an excellent project for his return. Draft Day balances the line between sport and drama, and manages to keep both sides happy and entertained. Don’t worry if you do not know much about American football, the sport vernacular is not too complex, and it is viewable by a wide audience.

The story follows Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), who has quite a load on his shoulders. His girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant with their first child; he has fired his father, who then died; and he is torn between the draft pick he is expected to make, and that which he feels in his heart. Will he choose the obvious choice? Or will he take a chance on the underdog, step out from his father’s former shadow, and make a name for himself?

There has not been much talk of this film, so I was surprised to find it quite interesting. When it comes to films with these mixed themes, it is important for there to be a good balance between the general story drama, and the sports action. It is something that has been done so well in the 2000 film Remember the Titans, and the TV show Friday Night Lights (2006 to 2011). Of course people want to watch the game, but it is the connection to the characters that makes them care. There are times when the story can become stale because, after all, it is not a real team that we are seeing constructed. Team spirit is such a strong element in sport, and is why something so dull as trading business is so enthralling during the NFL draft. Without this important element of allegiance to a player or team, it is harder to make the audience care.

The acting pool is also quite deep. I was perhaps one of the few that liked Waterworld (1995), so I knew that Costner could carry a film, but it was the female characters that entertained me the most. Garner and Ellen Burstyn (who plays Costner’s mother Barb Weaver) were compelling and really added to the non-sport parts of the film. Barb was witty and lightened some scenes. She expertly delivered her dialogue, and the other actors (including Terry Crews, Denis Leary, and Smallville’s Tom Welling) were right on par with her.

Director Ivan Reitman (who has directed predominately drama/comedy films) also made some interesting visual effect choices. There are going to be some who watch this movie who are not much of a sports fan, so this will help to keep them entertained. It is also just cool to see this experimentation with visuals in a non-sci-fi and fantasy film.

For the most part, the reception has been pretty positive. Kevin Costner has not always been the most popular actor, and though I do not think this will be a multiple award winner, it is definitely a good watch.

4 out of 5 stars

Boyhood (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Richard Linklater brings us Boyhood, the film that took twelve years to make, and three hours to tell. Linklater and his cast and crew managed to keep their project secret for many years, and it wasn’t until the film was nearing completion that they announced their creative and unique feat. The film industry flipped. While it is new and exciting, unfortunately, that’s all that is drawing a crowd, and the ‘story’ element suffers.

The film focuses on Mason (Ellar Coltrane). He is a typical American kid – even having blonde hair and blue eyes – and this is the story of his years from five to eighteen. He and his family unite and struggle through breakups, birthdays, good times and bad times. Mason literally grows before our eyes, and we are reminded of our own childhood in the process. To ‘landmark’ the years, Linklater makes many references – such as the Harry Potter phenomenon. This connection to real-life further grounds the film, and connects our experiences to those of the characters.

Boyhood was written and directed by Richard Linklater, who once again plays with the element of time. His past works have predominately been set within the span of one day, though still meander without much plot, with the character’s development driving the action. Special assurances also had to be made to ensure that in the event Linklater died during the twelve years of production, Ethan Hawke (Mason’s father and past collaborator with the creator) would take-over the directing responsibility.

All of the performances were beautiful – both from lead and secondary characters – and it’s amazing to think that their entire progress was created so many years ago. For such young actors (Mason’s sister is even played by Linklater’s new-comer daughter, Lorelei) to understand and portray their characters so well for so long, shows they have what it takes to have bright film careers.

With the art of filmmaking changing throughout the years, Linklater had to find and maintain his style for the whole duration of the production. The camera remains quite static, with quick cuts to the speakers. This gives it less of a film-feel, and more like a documentary. The action and dialogue also feel less strict, and don’t seem to follow a script, being so realistic in nature.

The film has had its ups and downs with critics and audiences, going from 1-out-of-10 ratings, to 10-out-of-10 ratings and winning awards. For the most part, Boyhood is commended for its unique process, while others can’t help but look past that to the obvious lack of story and therefore find the 3 hour run-time too much to bear.

There seems to be no middle-ground with opinions on this film, you either love it, or you hate it. While it’s true it could have had more of a story, I appreciate a filmmaker trying something new, instead of remaking an old product. Either way, it is going to be talked about for many years to come.

4 out of 5 stars

Hercules (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.

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Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has gone from career to career, with his fan-base continuing to grow. He has been a college football player, professional WWE wrestler, and now he is a Greek demigod. This film is the second about Hercules to hit cinemas this year – with Kellan Lutz starring in the title role of The Legend of Hercules. Johnson’s film definitely has its ‘cheesy’ moments (“I am Hercules!”), but excels as pure entertainment.

Hercules begins by showing us the conquering of the legendary twelve labours (the Lion, Hyrda, the Boar, etc.) to get us familiar with the title character. Hercules, son of Zeus, is a heroic warrior mercenary. He is beyond the strength of any mere human, but he is tortured by the loss of his family. With nothing and no one, he does what he does best, and his skills are soon requested by the King of Thrace (Lord Cotys) and his daughter. Threatened by the tyrannical warlord Rheseus, Hercules must transform Cotys’ men into an army that is capable of defeating Rheseus and keeping the innocent safe.

Over the years, there have been many films that focus on Hercules, so it is difficult to make one more influential or entertaining than another. This film simply succeeds in creating an enjoyable experience. The overall pace is good, without being too emotionally heavy or boring. In the first two minutes, we see Hercules in all his glory, completing the twelve labours. Johnson is in perfect physical form for the role, and you can almost believe he is strong enough for these amazing feats.

Despite the obvious lack of real threat – I don’t think anyone in the audience could relate to the majority of the on-screen jeopardy – we believe these characters. We feel for their loss and their worries, and that is something hard to do in a film so detached from reality. Veteran actors Hurt and Fiennes are brilliant as always, though the “gruelling” eight months of training for Johnson might be starting to become too much for him.

The use of CGI was good, and not over-the-top like other fantasy films tend to be. They were used a lot at the beginning of the film, allowing the rest of the film to be more character-driven, with the CGI mostly adding to the feel and setting. The lighting was quite dark, sometimes making it harder to see the effects, but this could also been more of a creative style by the director.

Hercules has received mixed reviews. It might not be the most important movie released this year, but it has been well-received and enjoyed by audiences.

I am not sure whether the release of two Hercules movies this year will affect the success of either. However, this film is a must-see if you are into the thrill of adventure and want to be transported to another world. It does not stick too closely to the mythology, but the essentials are the same.

4 out of 5 stars

The Boxtrolls (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.


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From the minds that gave us Coraline (2009) and ParaNorman (2012) comes the fantastic new 3D animation film The Boxtrolls (2014). Based on the children’s novel ‘Here Be Monsters!’ by Alan Snow, the story follows Eggs, an orphaned human boy who is raised by a society of strange and mischievous creatures called the Boxtrolls, and who must find a way to protect his family from the evil Archibald Snatcher.

No longer are animation films just for the enjoyment of children. I am twenty-three years old, and can say that this is my type of movie.

First of all, you cannot go past the brilliance of the animation. Laika, the American animation company founded in 2005, have created a very distinctive animation style. The generated scenery depth and character expressions are astounding, constructing life-like images of unreal creatures. Laika have found their niche, and would be foolish to change.

Of course, behind the animations are the talented voice actors. Rising actors Isaac Hempstead Wright (Eggs) and Elle Fanning (Winnie, Eggs’ human comrade), bring life to the characters purely through the emotion of their voices. Veteran actor Ben Kingsley (Archibald Snatcher), Nick Frost (Mr. Trout), Tracy Morgan (Mr. Gristle), and many more experienced actors and actresses breathe life into their characters, making each and every one unique and entertaining.

The animation may attract the audience, but it is the script that will keep them in their seats, and entertained for the full two-hours. The Boxtrolls, with their stubby legs and clad in discarded containers, speak their own gibberish language – perhaps an attempt to mimic the success of Despicable Me’s minion-language – and is the only downfall of the film, but it does not detract from the story and underlying moral of the film.

Over the past decade specifically, countries all over the world have focused on the environment and the issue of garbage. Recycling discarded materials into new products is encouraged, and that is where The Boxtrolls comes in. All films have a message within their story, a comment they want to make, and children’s films are no exception. This message might be a bit too complex for the younger children in the audience, but it is just another way in which this movie is appealing en masse.

The only issue that parents or guardians might want to look into before taking their child/ren to see this film would be what some reviews have called “grotesque” scenery. This relates to the sewer locations, and the darkness of the films colouring when below ground. It is nothing harmful, but younger viewers might dislike it.

Animation films, despite the complex and lengthy creation process, seem to be always coming out at the cinemas. New technology leads to new techniques, and we can see the change in animation and story complexity from Pocahontas (1995) to The Lego Movie (2014). The Boxtrolls, though not as esteemed as the previous two films listed, shows inspiring animation, engaging characters and story, and is a film that will entertain all ages.

4 out of 5 stars

God’s Not Dead (2014) – Review

As seen on CinemaParadiso.


 

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The experienced Kevin Sorbo and newcomer Shane Harper face off in the most recent Christian-based film to hit the big screen, arguing the controversial question: Is God Dead? The film is a perfect mix of logic and emotion, that anyone and everyone will love.

The recent influx of Christian-based films and mini-series’ is a wonderful thing. Watching them not only gets people talking, but also shows how God’s thousand-year-old promises are still accessible to us today.

Josh Wheaton (Harper) does not know what he is in for when he signs up to the college philosophy course, run by Professor Radisson (Sorbo). The students are all offered an easy passing grade, if they simply write: ‘God is Dead’. Wheaton, a Christian, refuses. Radisson offers an opportunity for him to pass: prove God is not dead. Wheaton accepts, but struggles to find the right words. He knows God sent him there for this very reason. He cannot fail.

Sometimes it is hard to describe exactly why you love a movie, but others times, everything just works.

There are not many familiar faces in the cast, but I am sure we will be seeing many of them in leading roles in the future. Kevin Sorbo is not as we have seen him before. He is not a Greek hero. He does not show-off his rippling muscles. Instead, he plays the role of the antagonist perfectly, not only portraying a human obstacle the hero must overcome, but also allowing his own character to come to life. Shane Harper brilliantly takes on the pressure-filled leading role. Coming from a mainly dancing background, it is amazing to see the depth of acting-emotion he has – though he still has room for improvement. Special guest stars such as Willie and Korie Robertson, from Duck Dynasty also bring a more light-hearted feel to the film.

Christian music has been growing in popularity over the years, and the Christian pop-rock band Newsboys – whose songs feature in the film – are sure to gain more fans with their inspiring music.

Overall, the film gives a very important lesson to learn. Colleges and universities all over the world claim to want open-mindedness, but criticise and taunt when a Christian walks in. There are legitimate arguments proving God’s existence, and so-called intellectuals need to hear it. Films like these get people talking about Christianity and doing the research for themselves.

As can be expected, most online reviews are very unfavourable. Criticisms range from its general faith-based story, to how preachy it was, and even the camera techniques. Despite this, audiences are quickly filling the seats and proclaiming their approval.

Not everything in this film is perfect – such as their stand on evolution and the big bang theory – so it’s important to watch the film, but then go out and read the Bible. This film was shot in a total of twenty days and has already gained over thirty-times its production budget. There is a definite market for Christian-based films and it seems, for the meantime at least, they are here to stay.

4 out of 5 stars