Dune

Dune

Rating: 2.75/5

Premise:

Dune, or planet Arakkis, is the only place where the spice Melange can be found. Whoever controls the spice, basically controls the universe, since it has all sorts of properties, namely travelling anywhere without moving. The duke Leto Atreides travels to Arrakis with his family: his concubine Jessica and his son, Paul Atreides, who should never have been born.
There is a reason his mother was ordered to bear only daughters, and Paul will discover his fate shortly after setting foot on the desert planet.

Review:

This movie is a classic of science fiction for good reason. I watched it a few years ago and then again a couple days ago. There are a few things which I wish I could have seen better explained, like , regarding the desert suits, people were supposed to breathe in through the mouth and breathe out through the nose tube (hello, sandstorms??); how we are told that the planet has crazy high temperatures which don’t seem to bother them when they go outside; what happened to Dr Yueh’s wife, what made him betray the Duke and especially who exactly he wanted to kill; why Paul says that the worm is the spice and vice-versa; how Jessica could lead the sisterhood while stuck on Arakkis; why that “place” Paul saw when drinking the water of life was so forbidden to women; other stuff I don’t remember at this point, most if not all of which I am sure are better explained/addressed in the book which inspired this movie, and is probably at least part of the reason why people who read the saga first hate the movie so much. I have not read the book(s) so, to me, Dune was, for the most part, a positive experience.

There are some features which make this movie unique and perhaps a bit harder to appreciate than your average blockbuster.
The special effects are pretty out there, when you consider the movie came out in 1984.
There are all sorts of bizarre, disturbing things going on, particularly with the Harkonnen, which made me sick to my stomach.

You are SO beautiful, my Baron. Your skin, love to me. Your diseases lovingly cared for, for all eternity.

That scene when the Baron ogles/admires his nephew’s beauty was disturbing in a different way from the sick stuff they put in their mouths, for instance, or the picture above.
The different camera plans were engaging and I especially enjoyed certain closeups, accompanied by characters’ thoughts.
The scenery, gadgetry, character wardrobe/hair/styling, etc – all the visuals, in general, were stunning, and the soundtrack was superb, reminiscent of Star Wars.

I think that for the most part the movie was well developed. I appreciated many things, right from how someone I initially thought was the good guy, righteous and honourable, really wasn’t.
There were a few slow paced moments, especially when Paul had his premonitory dreams and when the characters were ‘thinking’, because their voice came out all whispery, and when it went on for a while it caused me to almost doze.

On the other hand, other parts went by too quickly and I wish they would have been more developed, like Paul’s relationship with Chani and his whole transformation to Muad ‘Dib.

I recommend Dune to anyone who enjoy sci-fi classics.

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Sins of the Father

Sins of the Father
by Anthony Vicino

Rating: 3/5

I just finished reading this and am pretty confused. In fact, I was confused throughout the whole thing, so I reread bits and pieces once I was done.
It was quite a ride and will mess with your brain, that’s for sure. But when I first started reading, I noticed that our narrator was talking to this guy who he called Reynolds, which I imagine is his last name, but he also called him Wilson and then Harri, so not sure what is up with that.

And then as I read on, I kept running figures in my mind trying to figure out people’s age and it didn’t add up.

If Ricky is reported to be stuck in an 8 year old mind even though 43 years have passed, how can Paxton, who is reportedly his father, be approximately the same age? Or how could Lara want to get Ricky a smartphone back then? It made me suspect the ending, but I was still pretty confused because it was Ricky this and Ricky that; the doctor was doing his best to fix Ricky, Reynolds took care of Ricky for 10 years, etc etc and I just didn’t get it. I can understand addressing him as Ricky since he doesn’t know any better, but I felt that when talking with each other they should have used more generic terms like the patient, for instance, therefore not saying he is or isn’t Ricky, letting the reader figure that out by him or herself as the story advances.

When we arrive at the plot twist, I didn’t feel much closure. If Paxton had imagined the car accident as a consequence of finding out his wife cheated on him, and we find out that his sons were in the van all along, then what does that mean? Did she not cheat on him? Did he imagine the whole scene in prison?

Also, what caused Paxton to black out repeatedly even before this whole thing happened and have his brain all jumbled like that? It was mentioned his father beat him but not the extent of it, so not sure if that’s where the sins of one’s father comes into place. If it is because of everything it happened, I don’t really see it as a sin, not like it was the guy’s fault, he obviously has a mental illness.

Anywaaay… Quite confused but it was still quite a ride. I was gripped emotionally and psychologically, and truly felt for the characters. I just wish it could have been done in a different manner, so that I would have felt a clearer closure at the end. But I think it is one of those stories that everyone experiences very differently, and so I still recommend it.

Oh and chapters 9 to 11 are blank.

Read on March 22, 2015
GR Review

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the author for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Ascendance

Ascendance
by C. Jones

Rating: 2.5/5

Premise:

Landon is a 10-year-old boy who has known nothing but abuse from his parents. The violence gets to a point where they actually kill them. When Landon dies and ends up in purgatory, he will be faced with knowledge and choices that will determine whether he will go to Heaven or Hell.

Review:

It took me a while to get into Ascendance. Right from the start there was one thing that bothered me a lot: the constant changes from present to past tense and vice versa, sometimes even in the same sentence. It got extremely confusing and it was present during the entire narrative.

And then there was no character development for more than a third of the book. The first two chapters were basically a display of the most horrific violence one can imagine. Garrett is portrayed as someone utterly evil, for no reason. And Lisa… I couldn’t even tell what was up with her. One minute she doesn’t care about Landon either, the boy who came out of her womb, and even encourages Garrett to beat him – and the next she is all sympathetic to the men she meets online.
I didn’t get the thing with the dirtiness in the house. Lisa lived and supposedly worked in that house every single day, isolated from everyone, and she could endure living in a place where there is feces and urine and even an almost decade year old soiled diaper? When she is reported to take showers herself at least twice because she wanted to get cleaned up? Just didn’t make much sense to me.

But most of all I didn’t get Landon. When we are introduced to our main character, we are told that he lives most of his life in a cage, and that the only people he knows are his violent and abusive parents. In other books or movies I have come across, a child growing in these conditions is not even able to speak, and becomes almost animalistic. So then how did Landon develop eloquent speech and thoughts? How does he even know what love is if he has no recollection of receiving it? How does he know about concepts like God or other children and how their life is like? All we know is his age, what he looks like, the abuse he has gone through all his life, the only one he ever knew, and that his only toy is a wooden spoon (which is repeated almost to exhaustion), and yet he seems to have information about the outside world. At first, I thought maybe he watched all that information on TV, but we are told that his father broke it by shooting at it. Over the book, we never get an explanation as to how Landon developed these thoughts and notions.

So I was introduced to a reality which I didn’t understand, and therefore could not relate to. Everything seemed disjointed, staged for the sake of the book’s purpose, which is obviously to bring awareness to violence and to the importance of good moral choices. It is a noble purpose, for sure. But I felt that there was a lot of ugliness and that was it.

Then it started to get better. We finally got some background info on our characters, knowing how they came to be who they were (but only Garrett and Lisa, still nothing about Landon). By that point I kind of felt it was too late and had trouble relating or even connecting to the story. There should have been bits and pieces in the previous third of the book that would later relate to the explanations given at this point, even if not the whole story, because it did make sense that they would come here. There were subtle attempts, but not nearly enough to keep me gripped.

The repetitions didn’t help. A lot of the same word was said all over again, and expressions/ideas as well, particularly of the Evil One’s plans, why and how he had them, and what he would do and whatnot. I felt like I was reading the same things all over again and that is never pleasant.

There were some pretty terrific scenes of horror, and the premise is a good one. But given the very green prose, the repetitions, the time it took to get to know a bit of the characters, the lack of explanations about Landon’s development and more, I cannot give it more than 2.5 stars, rounded down. With a proper edit, the verb tenses fixed, those little connections I mentioned, the repetitions eliminated, etc, the rating can easily climb up, because this book really does have potential.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the author for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Read from March 19 to 21, 2015
GR Review

1 Month Anniversary!

Ana’s Lair completes one month of existence today.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has stopped by, left their likes, comments, voted for polls, follow the blog, and overall cared about what I had to say.

Here’s to many more months of hopefully plenty of good times!

Tea, coffee, hot chocolate…
A toast with your beverage of choice when reading!

Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep

Rating: 1.75/5

Premise:

A 40 year old woman wakes up every day not remembering her life for the past 14 years. The movie explores Christine trying to figure out what happened and who she can trust.

Review:

When I first heard about this movie I thought hmm… Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and such a premise? A must-watch, if there ever was one.

However, it was a major disappointment for me.
I found it extremely slow placed, with long silences which added nothing to the story, in my opinion, and only caused me to drift away.
It is repetitive, which you should expect to some extent, given it’s about a woman who has to have the same things explained to her every single day but, again, caused me to get distracted much too frequently. There are ways to do this without causing extreme boredom to the viewer, as you can see in other movies with similar premises.
For a long time, not much seems to happen and then everything unravels in the last moment.
But mostly there were huge plot flaws.

The biggest ones I identified and can still remember were:

– Where were Christine’s friends and especially her family during all the time since the ‘accident’ ocurred?
– Why did no one seem to notice when she was taken from the adult care facility? Only Claire is mentioned to have tried to contact her but didn’t do much to try and follow up on her!
– How could she not notice that the pictures had been doctored? Seriously?? And speaking of which, tampering with a few pictures is one thing, but a whole photo album? A birth certificate? How??
– She has been in that state for over a decade. Why start remembering things then?
– The hotel. How on earth could no one hear her screaming or running away all bloody, both times?
– Using a Nokia 3310, which looked brand new by the way, in 2013 was beyond convenient. Just so she could not activate the GPS function so Claire or anyone else could find her.
– Something else that was entirely too convenient was the doctor and the bad guy having the same first name.
– How exactly did the doctor find out about her? And randomly finding her in a park? Did I mention convenient?
– The complete isolation was not the least bit believable in an urban environment. Where are the neighbours? Joggers? Dog walkers? When does she go out for shopping, even if only groceries, etc? And when she goes to the school, does everyone know that guy as ‘Ben’?

One positive point is Firth’s performance, though he only really shines towards the end.
Given what we find out, I can not even understand the whole mind reset during the night thing. There was never a scientific explanation.

The movie succeeds in having a few suspenseful moments, but as a story about memory loss it is simply not believable and does not deliver.

The Thirteenth Tower

The Thirteenth Tower (Tree and Tower, #1)
by Sara C. Snider

Rating: 4.25/5

Premise:

Emelyn is a 17 year old house servant who never knew her real parents.
When strange things start happening in her town, the only place she ever knew, and two magisters promise her the answers she always longed for, she agrees to follow them on a wondrous, dangerous adventure, which will change her forever.

Review:

The narrative starts with a Cinderella sort of feel. We find out that Emelyn always has a bunch of chores to do and she has to do them quickly, but this day is even more important, because there is an amazing, much yearned for festival taking place that night, and she really wants to go, but only if she can finish in time.
Then that first chapter ends with a sort of piper of Hamelin feel and I was hooked.

Emelyn is not your average main character. She is a house servant who is resigned to her fate; she says please and curtsies and is always very polite; minds her own business, even when she is curious; she performs her tasks with zeal. Her only regret is that she never knew her parents. She was left on the doorstep of the house where she has worked since age 10. But she is not your typical rebellious teen and that, for me, was very refreshing. She is actually very appreciative of what she has, because she recognizes others are much worse off than her, and takes comfort in knowing she is very good at what she does.

Those first two chapters were so good that the rest of the adventure did not quite live up. Up until that point, it was totally a 5 star book and I had not a single complaint. You see, the way Emelyn is taken out of her world, a world she doesn’t even dislike per se – it’s her home and she is appreciative of it – and is then introduced to magical creatures is done very, very craftily. The author really has a way with words. She does a brilliant job at showing instead of telling and that is something that has been lacking in my reads for a very long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I was still quite gripped by the narrative most of the way. I am not quite sure how the author did it, but I managed to feel like I was in the story without extensive descriptions of the scenario or the characters. I found the imagery quite vivid, and it didn’t take many words for that to happen.
The dialogues were very realistic, contributed to me wanting to know what came next and kept me on edge about what was going on – who was good or bad, what their intentions were. At first you may not care much for the characters, particularly the secondary ones, because they feel somewhat bland and there is quite a lot of secrecy going on. But as the story progresses, you find out why they acted the way they did, why they said certain things, and they gain a whole new dimension.

Emelyn really grew on me. She was actually a bit slow at first, but mostly not for lack of wits, only because she was really reluctant to believe what was happening, especially with people around her saying it was all product of fairy tales and could not be real. I found that plausible instead of annoying, that she was wary to believe things that made no sense but at the same time tried to make sense of her new reality.
I love that Emelyn was actually weak at times. She was a house servant not so long ago! One does not develop an insane amount of courage overnight. Yes, some people would prefer that she had more mojo, but I for one found this, again, completely believable, which won me over.

She had no desire to go off with anyone; she just wanted everything to return to normal.
That would have totally been my reaction too. Going on an adventure sounds all nice and dandy when I am imagining it, but I would never do it if the opportunity arose. I for one really took to such a responsible character and couldn’t help but grow very fond of her.

The things that made me lower the rating down from the full 5 stars were the following:

Firstly, the fact that I saw the plot twist, or rather who Emelyn’s parents were, way too early. I knew who her father was in their first conversation, when he said she reminded him of his wife (duh) and from then on it wasn’t hard to guess who her mother was. The way we were presented to it was very well achieved, but that does not erase the fact that I figured it out way too early in the book, as well as other smaller things, and kept expecting the main character to get it as well.

I also wished that the story had been paced quicker at times. By condensing some things they would have had more impact.

And I felt that little details could have added to the story, given it a bit more density. For instance, when Emelyn first sleeps in a bed at an inn, there could have been a reference to how different it was to sleeping on a pallet all her life, a brief description of how heavenly it must have felt to her.

Some expressions I found a bit repetitive, like looked at X askance or if (…), he showed no sign of it.

I also thought that if she is such a polite girl she should have offered some chocolate to Corran; after all, he gave it to her.

Conclusion:

I have to admit this book caught me by surprise. Judging by the cover and premise, I thought it would be another fantasy book aimed mostly at young teens, but it was actually a very mature, well crafted fantasy read and I can honestly say that overall this was one of the best fantasy books I have read in a long time.

One other of my absolutely favourite things was that there was no romance in this book. Emelyn meets at least two young men who I imagine are pretty close to her age and guess what? She does not fall head over heels with either of them. She is a mature, respectful young woman, who is happy enough to develop a meaningful friendship.

The author manages to create truly unique things here.
First of all, the magic isn’t obvious and linear, which was completely new to me. Different people can use it in different ways.
Then, the the magical creatures. My favourite were definitely the Wylkins (oh, that Cobbe… loved her passionately!!), and I trust we will know more about the Forest People in the sequel. That concept intrigues me a lot, as well as the Magisters. They are the perfect example of semi good intentions done in a very bad way. I loved the moral that the ends do not justify the means.
An author can utterly conquer me by creating characters who are not necessarily good or bad, and this was very well achieved here. I particularly rooted for Aldren all the way, and let’s not forget the ‘villain’ of the story.

There’s plenty of things in the book which will take you by surprise. If not for real life conditioning my reading time, I would have devoured it in one go. I am very intrigued to see what comes next in the series.
I thoroughly recommend The Thirteenth Tower. Read it if you are looking for a breath of fresh air in the world of fantasy literature. It is well worth your time.

Disclaimer: I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Chappie

Chappie

Rating: 3/5

Premise:

The movie takes place in a Johannesburg only one year from present day. In 2016, crime rates are so high that the police finally buy robots to help enforce the law on the streets. Deon (Dev Patel) is responsable for creating these robots. However, he is always striving for the perfect AI and finally manages to create an intelligence capable of feeling, learning and making decisions.
Just as he is about to upload that consciousness to a battered robot which was about to be destructed, all chaos breaks loose.

Review:

I don’t usually go for the big special effects films because they tend to have crappy plots. However, the concept intrigued me.

For the most part, I was enthralled by the movie. There were even a couple of overwhelming scenes where I felt crushed. I never thought I would feel sorry for a robot, but dang, those scenes were well done. Chappie’s movements paired with his physical and verbal reactions really got to me.

There have been quite a few movies done about intelligent robots in the past few years. However, I have never watched one quite like Chappie. You see, when Deon finally manages to upload him to a free robot and he goes online, he is like a mixture between a child and a puppy. He is scared of people and does not even know how to speak. So, whatever he is taught, he absorbs it like a sponge. Be it slang, weird ticks, painting, you name it. He does not question any of it in the beginning, and is always eager to learn new things and try what he is told.

Like a child, he will trust his ‘parents’ completely, who happen to be criminals. They want to do a major heist and need Chappie to succeed, so they will manipulate him to that end. However, he is a true sentient being, and will end up realizing what he was a victim of, which will lead to yet more emotional scenes.

One of the scenes where I almost cried…

That, along with Deon’s rival in the company who manufactures and distributes the robots trying to sabotage him all the way (I never thought I would see Hugh Jackman play the bad guy, that was refreshing and he did it very well) makes for an action packed, extremely fast paced narrative.

Grrr my robot is better than yours!!

So why the only slightly better than average rating then?

Well, for one, I felt the excessive violence became too repetitive and overwhelmed what I personally considered to be more important about this movie. I know that these days, in order for a movie to be successful, it seems to necessarily have to gyrate around big special effects and booms and ra-ta-ta-ta-tas and blood and so on, but I prefer my sci-fi with less action and more intriguing plot.

Some scenes which were filmed too theatrically, which I am sure works great in a trailer but it’s one of the things I dislike the most about american blockbusters.
I like my movies real, if you know what I mean.

An example of what I mean.

And then there were some plot advances which I felt were not properly explained, like the one which led to the incredibly disappointing ending. I mean, it’s one thing for an extremely smart guy to create an AI program which leads to Chappie. That’s believable sci-fi. But for Chappie, who cannot even talk at first and remains completely innocent throughout the whole movie to create a program to download and save a human consciousness to a USB drive? And then be able to upload it? How did he even learn to program? And Deon becoming a robot? Can’t the company completely disable all of them with the master key if they want to?

But other scenes were truly well accomplished. My favourite were the one in the beginning where human and robot cops worked together – there was a true symbiosis there, the scene flowed so well -, the two majorly sad scenes with Chappie and the one where he beats the crap out of the bad guy and then says he forgives him, hah!

I recommend that you watch it. It’s exciting and emotional at the same time.
Just ignore the ending.

PS: Have you watched this movie? The reviews seem to be quite mixed about it.
What did you think?