REVIEW: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

ocean at the end of the lane bookI first read The Ocean at the End of the Lane around the time it was originally published in 2013. It was the first novel from Neil Gaiman I’d ever read; I’d seen his Doctor Who work, watched Neverwhere, and read some issues of The Sandman by this point but I had never read one of his novels in their entirety. Talk about a hell of a way to get into Gaiman’s work. At the time, I was just approaching adulthood, so this novel’s tale of a middle-aged man going through a deeply nostalgic trip down memory lane really hit me hard as it evoked feelings of long-lost childhood and the story itself proved to be far scarier than anything I’d read from Gaiman before – or, frankly, since. Now, since a stage adaptation of the novel has recently been announced by the National Theatre in the UK (it hits the stage in December of this year and I desperately hope National Theatre Live broadcasts it), it felt like the perfect time to revisit this book. It’s been six years since I last read it and I reread books so infrequently that it’ll almost be like experiencing this story for the first time all over again. And how is it returning to this story, you might ask? Wonderful. I truly adore this novel.  (NOTE: this review may feature spoilers related to the plot of the story.)

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse where she once lived, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.

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FIRST LISTEN: “Escape” by Salem Belladonna

Escape_Official_BestLast summer, I took a look at Circus of Alice, the first album from indie pop artist Madison Chase. That first album was the product of a young musician – it was made while she was a teenager – but it was easy to see that she had boatloads of talent and made the listener extremely interested in future music she’d make. Years have passed since that album came out, and she’s released a handful of new songs here and there, each of them showing her evolution as an artist while maintaining a similar stylistic connection to her previous work. Now, this past week, she dropped her newest single, “Escape”, as well as a total rebranding of her artistic persona: now performing under the name Salem Belladonna (henceforth, this post will refer to her by this stage name), “Escape” is the first song of the next era of music from Salem Belladonna – and the song continues where her previous singles have left off: furthering her evolution as an artist while pushing her music in both new and familiar directions – all while being a damn good, catchy song. (Two notes: 1. I don’t normally review much music on this blog, so I’ll do my best at sounding like I have any idea what I’m talking about. 2. In the interests of full disclosure, I know Madison in real life. That being said, all thoughts, as always, are my own and are not influenced by any outside sources.) (more…)

REVIEW: “Neverwhere” – The Illustrated Edition, by Neil Gaiman (will illustrations by Chris Riddell)

neverwhereI tried to read Neverwhere, the first solo novel from Neil Gaiman, years ago but I had shortly beforehand watched the original TV version of the story, so I had a lot of trouble getting into the novel as it skewed so closely to what I’d so recently watched. Years passed and I’d read a number of Gaiman’s other novels – Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and more – while never returning to his first to really give it a fair shot. Now,  in the wake of the success of Gaiman’s adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, I thought I’d return to a few favorites of Gaiman’s work while finally giving Neverwhere a real chance. Enough time has passed that I don’t really remember a whole lot of the TV show, so it was really the perfect time to give the book I read. I went to my local bookstore and found a new version of the book – Gaiman’s preferred text, now illustrated by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s frequent collaborators. With this new copy of the book and a copy of the audiobook – narrated by Gaiman, himself – it was time to finally read Neverwhere. Now, having finished the book, I can honestly say that I’m really mad at myself for how long it took me to read this book because it’s really that damn good. (NOTE: This review will discuss elements of the story itself, Riddell’s illustrations, and Gaiman’s audiobook. Also, mild spoilers for a 23-year-old novel follow.) 

Neverwhere (written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell)
Richard Mayhew is a young London businessman with a good heart whose life is changed forever when he stops to help a bleeding girl—an act of kindness that plunges him into a world he never dreamed existed. Slipping through the cracks of reality, Richard lands in Neverwhere—a London of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth. Neverwhere is home to Door, the mysterious girl Richard helped in the London Above. Here in Neverwhere, Door is a powerful noblewoman who has vowed to find the evil agent of her family’s slaughter and thwart the destruction of this strange underworld kingdom. If Richard is ever to return to his former life and home, he must join Lady Door’s quest to save her world—and may well die trying.

Published in 1997, Neil Gaiman’s first novel, Neverwhere, heralded the arrival of a major talent. Over the years, various versions have been produced around the world. In 2016, this gorgeously illustrated edition of the novel was released in the UK. It is now available here, and features strikingly atmospheric, painstakingly detailed black-and-white line art by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s favorite artistic interpreters of his work.

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REVIEW: “Stranger Things” Season 3

StrangerThings_S3_Illustrated_Vertical_FINAL_RGB_Digital__ENI was late hopping onto the Stranger Things train. I tried watching the first season back when it was initially released in 2016 but I just couldn’t get into it. It featured all the things that so many Spielberg movies (many of which the series is clearly trying to emulate) have that annoy me – too much focus on the adolescent drama and not enough focus on the actual spooky stuff. So, I never got into it. Fast forward to December 2018, when I finally sit down to watch through the first two seasons of the show. I still stand by a lot of my initial thoughts, but it’s hard not to get into the show. It fetishizes the 1980s to the point where it almost feels masturbatory, never having anything interesting to say about its time period and merely mining the era for as many nostalgic references it cram into the show as humanly possible; it never explores its mythology with any of the depth you’d want it to; and it often gets too caught up in the kids’ needless drama and odd side stories, but it’s a mostly fun show. The two novels and comic series that have been released in the downtime between season two and season three have gotten me far more interested in the universe of the story than the show ever did, so, naturally, I’m interested in seeing what season three does with the storyline. Will it finally explore some of the more interesting elements of its mythology or will it just be more of the same frustrating balance the first two seasons had? Spoiler alert: it’s the latter. Season 3 of Stranger Things is more of the same stuff we’ve already seen and not much new. (Mild spoilers ahead!)

It’s 1985 in Hawkins, Indiana, and summer’s heating up. School’s out, there’s a brand new mall in town, and the Hawkins crew (Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Sadie Sink) are on the cusp of adulthood. Romance blossoms and complicates the group’s dynamic, and they’ll have to figure out how to grow up without growing apart. Meanwhile, danger looms. When the town’s threatened by enemies old and new, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and her friends are reminded that evil never ends; it evolves. Now they’ll have to band together to survive, and remember that friendship is always stronger than fear.

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REVIEW: “Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun” by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

91ygin4voqlNovelizations of movies can really be a hit or miss affair. The best ones take the events that happen within a film and expand upon them in ways only a novel can do – bringing readers into the thoughts of the characters within a film and showing those same events from a different angle or with extra bits that the film might not have had time to show. Unfortunately, most film novelizations don’t do that – they to just be fairly strict prose conversions of the script. So, it’s with that mindset that I approached this “novelization” of Guillermo del Toro’s award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth – I hesitate to call this book a novelization because Pan’s Labyrinth came out thirteen years ago and most novelizations come out around the same time as the film they’re novelizing. With that context, it might be best to consider this book a retelling of the story featuring in the film – a screen-to-page adaptation, if you will, by a talented author – Cornelia Funke. As is always the case with any adaptation, does the story still work when transferred to this new medium? In the case of Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun, the answer is yes and no.

“Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun” by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke
Oscar winning writer-director Guillermo del Toro and New York Times bestselling author Cornelia Funke have come together to transform del Toro’s hit movie Pan’s Labyrinth into an epic and dark fantasy novel for readers of all ages, complete with haunting illustrations and enchanting short stories that flesh out the folklore of this fascinating world.

This spellbinding tale takes readers to a sinister, magical, and war-torn world filled with richly drawn characters like trickster fauns, murderous soldiers, child-eating monsters, courageous rebels, and a long-lost princess hoping to be reunited with her family.

A brilliant collaboration between masterful storytellers that’s not to be missed.

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REVIEW: “Child’s Play” (2019 Film)

child's playThe Chucky/Child’s Play franchise is a really interesting one. It started off with a pretty standard horror film about a creepy doll before it devolved into a series of sequels that grew more and more comedic, eventually coming back around to more serious horror once again with the latest few sequels. But with so many sequels, the continuity of the series has become a bit difficult to follow. So, perhaps it was about time for a reboot to happen. Could new life be breathed into this old franchise by some new creatives? Or would it just end up being another in a long list of subpar remakes of classic horror films? With this new Child’s Play, it’s a bit of both. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Child’s Play (written by Tyler Burton Smith, directed by Lars Klevberg)
A contemporary re-imagining of the 1988 horror classic, Child’s Play follows Karen (Aubrey Plaza), a single mother who gifts her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill), unaware of its more sinister nature.

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SPOILER FREE REVIEW: “Spider-Man: Far From Home”

sman posterIt’s not exactly a secret that I’m not the biggest fan of the MCU. It’s not that I have anything against the series as a whole, and I’ve quite liked a number of the movies, but a much larger number of them tend to be exceedingly mediocre movies. There’s nothing wrong with a movie that’s just “okay” – but when it’s film after film after film that all feel the same and don’t aspire to be much better than simply “fine”, it can get really exhausting very quickly. There’s really only one or two MCU movies that I thought were actually bad (Civil War and Endgame), but both of them were huge team-up movies. I tend to have nicer thoughts for the solo films. As for this iteration of Spider-Man, well… I didn’t love his appearance in Civil War and Homecoming‘s tone felt a bit too ’80s-teen-movie at times for my tastes, but he’s a solid character and Tom Holland is doing a very good job with his portrayal and the character has some of the best villains in the entire Marvel universe (and Homecoming’s usage of The Vulture was very good), so I have more positive thoughts about Spider-Man than I do for some other MCU movies. So, with the upcoming release of the newest Spider-Man movie, Far From Home, it’s time to see what’s next for Spider-Man in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame. Is this movie better than Endgame was? Answer: Yes, but that’s not exactly a high hurdle to clear – and Far From Home barely clears it. (This review will be as spoiler-free as possible, but if you don’t want to know anything about the movie, this is your warning.)

Spider-Man: Far From Home (written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, directed by Jon Watts) 
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) returns in Spider-Man: Far From Home, the next chapter of the Spider-Man: Homecoming series! Our friendly neighborhood Super Hero decides to join his best friends Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), and the rest of the gang on a European vacation. However, Peter’s plan to leave super heroics behind for a few weeks are quickly scrapped when he begrudgingly agrees to help Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) uncover the mystery of several elemental creature attacks, creating havoc across the continent!

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REVIEW: “Yesterday” (2019 Film)

yesterday posterEvery now and then you see a trailer for a movie that just seems so odd that you simultaneously wonder how it got greenlit and also how it’s never been done before. This was definitely the case when I saw the trailer for Danny Boyle’s newest film, Yesterday. In that trailer, we are invited to enter a world where the Beatles suddenly ceased to exist and nobody – except one man – could remember them. It’s such a delightfully strange premise that there were really only two ways the film could end up: a hot mess or a delightful surprise. Thankfully, it’s 100% the latter and it’s such a fun movie carried by a very charismatic lead and some solid filmmaking. (Mild spoilers follow.)

Yesterday (written by Richard Curtis, directed by Danny Boyle)
Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, despite the fierce devotion and support of his childhood best friend, Ellie (Lily James). Then, after a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, Jack wakes up to discover that The Beatles have never existed… and he finds himself with a very complicated problem, indeed.

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REVIEW: “Adolescence” (2019 film)

Screen Shot 2019-06-19 at 3.27.22 PMThis film isn’t normally the kind of film I’d review on here, nor is it really the kind of film I’d actively seek out to watch on my own. I tend not to be the kind of person who really enjoys these kinds of coming-of-age stories; they often feel like they were written by people who long ago forgot what it was like to be a teenager and, as someone who isn’t that far removed from his teenage years, I tend to find that kind of writing uninteresting, at best, and downright insulting at worst. That being said, I am often drawn to darker teenage films; those that explore the less sunny sides of being a teenager/young adult often find ways of drawing me in. So, when the distributors of this film, TriCoast Entertainment, reached out to me and offered me a screener of the movie in exchange for an honest review of it, I read the brief synopsis, got intrigued, and thought I’d give it a shot and see how I felt about this film. As I tend not to be the target audience for these kinds of movies (I often find myself getting bored in more “realistic” films that aren’t comedies/action/sci-fi/fantasy/horror films), I am gonna do my best to approach this from as objective a point of view as possible. Does Adolescence work as a film for the audience it’s trying to reach? The answer is, I think, mostly. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

“Adolescence” (written by Cal Barnes, Mickey River, Chris Rossi, and Ashley Avis; directed by Ashley Avis)
When a creative, sensitive teen from a dysfunctional family, Adam (Mickey River), meets a beautiful, enigmatic runaway, Alice (India Eisley), his life is turned upside down as he travels the dark path with her toward parties and drug addiction.

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REVIEW: “Toy Story 4”

ToyStory45c90ee4349d75This was the first Toy Story film I wasn’t excited to see. When Toy Story 3 came out in 2010, it felt like the perfect ending to the Toy Story series. It was a beautiful close to a trilogy of films that had, quite literally, spanned an entire generation of children. So, naturally, when it was announced that Disney/Pixar was going to release another film in the series, potentially ruining that perfect ending, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. Disney had made some TV specials set in the aftermath of Toy Story 3, but that was about as far as I wanted it to go. I’m happy to say, however, that this fourth film largely acts as an epilogue to the previous three, respecting that beautiful ending while giving the characters – notably Woody – some extra closure. It’s largely unnecessary but fairly enjoyable. (Mild spoilers ahead.)

Toy Story 4 (written by Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom, directed by Josh Cooley)
Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) has always been confident about his place in the world, and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. So when Bonnie’s beloved new craft-project-turned-toy, Forky (voice of Tony Hale), declares himself as “trash” and not a toy, Woody takes it upon himself to show Forky why he should embrace being a toy. But when Bonnie takes the whole gang on her family’s road trip excursion, Woody ends up on an unexpected detour that includes a reunion with his long-lost friend Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts). After years of being on her own, Bo’s adventurous spirit and life on the road belie her delicate porcelain exterior. As Woody and Bo realize they’re worlds apart when it comes to life as a toy, they soon come to find that’s the least of their worries.

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