MadReviews

Hello, beloved internet, and welcome to my little blog. Here you will find reviews great and small on just a small fraction of the books that I read and things that I watch.

I am a “jack of all trades” and “master of none” kind of media enthusiast: if it grips me, I don’t care within what genre it resides. I will read or watch it.

You may also find some more academic pieces that I wrote at different points in my schooling and some that were written a little later. What can I say? I love talking about film/tv and books, so I use this small little corner of the internet to do so.

Discussion: Shinichiro Watanabe

TL;DW – Shinirchiro Watanabe is a brilliant anime series’ director for his ability to populate his stories with a diverse crowd of antiheroic characters and complexify (yes, I made this word up — roll with it) them beyond their simplistic archetypes. Whether he’s got his characters in space, in an anachronistic Edo-era of Japan, or even the modern day, he’s never going to give obviously good/bad guys; they’re always gonna live in that moral grey area.

Series’ discussed:
Cowboy Bebop
Samurai Champloo
Kids on the Slope
Space Dandy
Terror in Resonance

Review: Your Name. (Kimi No Na Wa)

TL;DW – Run, don’t walk to this movie while you can (if you can). I know it’s still got a pretty limited release, but this is a film that you don’t want to miss.

Few films are this beautifully done from top to bottom — writing, direction, acting, animation — while also being both profound and emotionally moving. I cannot recommend this film (and, really, all of Shinkai’s films) highly enough.

FINAL VERDICT: SEE IT/BUY IT.

Review: The Bedlam Stacks

The Bedlam Stacks
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Bloomsbury for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review**

*2.75/5 <– really only just under 3*

I previously encountered Natasha Pulley as a storytelling through her wonderful debut, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, which I found to be surprising, delightful, and entertaining. Needless to say I was quite excited to go into The Bedlam Stacks; I was expecting that same charm, that pleasant surprise I experience with Watchmaker.

But it never really came.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great things about Bedlam. Pulley’s ability to spin a tale of magical realism is never in question within this novel, and there’s more than one hint of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness about the whole thing. And yet the story feels overdrawn, overlong — despite clocking in under 350 pages — and rather one-note. Things reach a certain emotional pitch and never diverge from that place. I suppose one could argue that’s part of the atmosphere of the novel, but it does little to invest me, as a reader, in what’s happening to our protagonist, Merrick Tremayne.

And despite some interesting moments of mysticism and religion that tie into the aforementioned magical realism, Bedlam ultimately leads to very little. Everything just sort of…ends. It fizzles out, reminding me of the memorable quote from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight:

You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

This book ultimately became it’s own villain, as it probably could have done with a little more to punch up the ending and make sure the threads it began spinning actually lead to something (worthwhile) at the end.

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The Black Tapes: Less is More

I’m not one for horror.

Correction: I’m not one for modern-horror. I’ve found that most modern horror, especially in film, ends up being nothing more than an onslaught of gratuitous slaughter and gore, followed by a few jump-scares. That’s not scary, just startling and gross. No, if I want horror, I want my heart to build to a slow, but steady climb from uneasy skip to terrified gallop; I want the hairs to stand up on the back of my neck; I want to feel the need to keep some kind of light on at night. I want tension, I want atmosphere and mood; I want to constantly question what’s going on and what’s going to happen; I want to hold my breath on the verge of tears, afraid to uncoil my tight body from its braced position.

In other words: terrify me, don’t startle me. After all, the definition I put to horror is a story that elicits a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears.

This is why most modern-day horror just does not do it for me, and why I’m not the person you want to try to pitch those kinds of stories to; they’re just not going to interest me. But in 2016, I made a serious exception to this rule. Someone who knows my tastes very well, recommended I listen to a podcast entitled The Black Tapes.

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Review: Splinter

Splinter
Splinter by Sasha Dawn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**Thank you to Lerner Publishing Group for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purpose of review**

This book is…fine. Yeah, fine. It’s solid and it feels like it was fairly well thought through. As a family drama, Splinter brought something to the table, which is the only reason its thriller succeeds the way that it does. If the family dynamics hadn’t been so well established, this thriller would have come off as maudlin, ridiculous, or, worse, wholly predictable. Were there some things that I had guessed? Sure, but I will give that the book certainly gave you plenty of red herrings to fall for, and they’re executed well.

On the whole, a solid thriller that doesn’t bring me anything amazing, but certainly brought something that I could enjoy at times.

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The Film Was Wide Enough

“Come on, Tom. Let’s finish this the way we started: together.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2)

I want to start with this blanket statement: adaptation is not easy, and I know from practical experience as a member of the media industry. Having majored in Digital Video & Cinema at university, I had more than one class where I not only studied the art of adaptation, but had to try my hand at writing speculative adaptive scripts. While rewarding, those were some of the most difficult scripts to crank out.

I think it’s easy to fall into what I like to call “purist mode” and say something to the effect of: “I could make this film and keep everything and it would totally work.” Well, I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you — no, it wouldn’t. And this is not only in terms of film as art, but also film as business. A filmmaker has maybe 120-minutes at best (180 if you’re lucky) to hold an audience captive, and that’s not often enough to adapt a multi-Harry_potter_deathly_hallows_part_2_poster.jpghundred-page novel. Beyond that, one has to take into account that the majority of films are high-cost risks for everyone involved. Now, I could go into a wealth of specifics on the topic of adaptation, but I’ll boil down my thoughts to this: if I can understand or justify an adaptive change in my head, then I’m usually going to be okay with it.

The Harry Potter films were, in my opinion, great films on a standalone level, and I also think they are fantastic adaptations of quite high quality, with perhaps the exception of Half-Blood Prince. While I can understand the “why” related to its cutting a good deal of important information — backstory does not make for good movie —  it still bothers me as a fan. That’s an adaptation change I can justify in my head from an objective standpoint and, while disagreeing with it as a fan, I can move along and leave it be. But there is, however, one very significant adaptive change within the final film of this series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, with which I draw umbrage: the final duel between Harry and Voldemort.

Spoiler-warning

SPOILER WARNINGThis post will contain spoilers for the entirety of the Harry Potter series, films and books alike. If you have not yet read or watched all of the Harry Potter stories, this is your chance to turn back now. You’ve been warned.

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Review: Wintersong

Wintersong
Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review**

4.75/5*

Well I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

I’ll admit it: I went into this book with little expectations. It sounds terrible, but I never meant in a way that implied a potential lack of quality. I went into this book joking that, after reading its premise, as long as it gave me a sexy Goblin King upon whom I could project the image and persona of David Bowie’s Jareth from Labyrinth, then I would probably enjoy it no matter what.

And, at first, I would say that’s certainly what this book did. Der Erlkönig is mysterious and alluring in the way goblins and the fae appear in many a tale. While I am certainly no expert in the field of goblin lore, what bits I saw, I recognised with ease. But what was even more exciting was recognizing the Classical allusions this book drew — namely, that it evoked the myth of Hades and Persephone with a dash of Orpheus.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

The story of Hades and Persephone is one that appears in many a fictional work — Beauty & the Beast, The Phantom of the Opera, V for Vendetta to name a few that are well-known — but it’s one that I think is fiendishly hard to do well. You see, I find that many a creator doesn’t know quite how to handle their Persephone. She is often too mewling, too timid, and she never quite ascends to being the equal of her Hades. That was the beauty of the myth: for all of its many issues involving the lack of consent and such in the early tellings (c.f. Hesiod’s Theogony), Persephone always ascends to the side of her husband as his equal.

The Ancient Greeks feared Persephone just as much as they did Hades, in some respects even more sore. She was the Queen of the Underworld while also a goddess of the spring; she is both life and death, and her movement between the world of the living and the Underworld controls the entire cycle.

So when I see that this story become about a girl — a young woman, really, who chooses to give herself up to the Goblin King, the one who is king of the Underground, for the purposes of playing with the laws of spring and winter, the very thing that controls harvests that mean life or death for humanity, it is no longer just the fluffy paranormal romance story story of a sexy Goblin King and some female protagonist I can (usually) forget with relative ease. This becomes a story of growth, of power and sacrifice, and, yes, of love as well. If you’re any kind of scholar or fan of Hades/Persephone myth, I think there are many things you are sure to enjoy seeing in this tale.

Baby I’ve been here before
I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

But, as I mentioned before, there is a dash of Orpheus, and I’d wager it’s little coincidence that this myth is directly referenced within the novel. Because, you see, there are not two main characters; there are three. Elisabeth, The Goblin King, and the music.

I didn’t know this book would be as much about music as it would be about the triumph of living and knowing thyself. But S. Jae-Jones’ poetic prose captures the ecstasy of music in its pages. It captures the qual parts joy and pain — that silent scream into the void we offer up from the depths of our soul when we listen to music that moves us, when we are inspired. When we dare, too, to bare our own souls to the world and create. It captures both the wild abandon and the fragile tenderness.

Maybe there’s a God above
All I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

And in its final chapters, this haunting, beautiful book gripped its heart in its talons and wrung every bit of pain and joy from it so that I was feeling everything, all at once. It sunk its claws into my soul and I will admit that I was having a hard time holding back tears. Something about this book and the way that S. Jae-Jones wove together myth and music and magic struck a chord deep within me, and I got so much more out of this book than I ever expected to.

I’m sure there are people who will love to point out all the flaws that exist in this novel, and I am the first to admit that it is not perfect. It is, as those lyrics suggest, a “broken hallelujah” that rings truer in its imperfections.

*nota bene: I would not, normally, frame a review around song lyrics — let alone song lyrics that do not even appear within the novel itself. But something about this novel had me repeating these lyrics in my head over and over while reading. And while I would have loved to have peppered this review with a plethora of quotes from the novel, that’s just too many spoilers, I think, and the words within this book deserve to be a private moment experienced by the reader.

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