I am Number Four: Movie Review

iamnumberfourBecause I was in the mood for some action and eye candy, I checked out by TBW files and pulled out something that I’ve been meaning to see in a while but haven’t gotten the chance to. Reading Young Adult novels of late has piqued my interest for more big screen adaptations and I am Number Four seemed like one that never quite got the follow up it was expecting. I know, because there are currently four or five other books in the series and no movie sequel in the works. I think this is weird because this franchise has plenty more material to explore, compared with other trilogies that are fixing to break up the last books into two parts to get two movies out of it.

Nine Lorien legacies have taken refuge on planet Earth, along with their guardians to gather strength and one day unite to defeat the Mogadorians who have decimated their home planet. But before they can do so, they must first survive from the Mogadorians who have tracked them down to hunt and kill them one by one. After the death of the third legacy, Four (Alex Pettyfer) and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), flee to Paradise Ohio to build a fresh cover and at the same time discover the whereabouts of his friend, who is helping him find the other surviving Loriens. But unlike in other towns, John finds a connection with Paradise, particularly with a girl named Sarah (Diana Agron), and conspiracy theorist and school outcast Sam (Callan Mcauliffe), who happens to be the son of Henri’s friend. With the Mogadorians on their trail, Four tries to weigh the importance of his newfound powers and responsibilities against his yearning for a normal human life.

This movie has been ragged on by critics a lot, and for good reason. For one, while the actors playing the main characters are all nice to look at, the characters they play are really one dimensional and clichéd. Sometimes, Four’s lack of foresight and ill timed rebellion becomes really painful to watch. Henri seemed to be the only person who had any lick of sense and in the end, he was the one who had to make the sacrifice, which was really unfair. The fact that the movie chose to focus on Four/John and Henri’s disagreement about the latter’s strict policies may have won over the younger audience who themselves are rebelling against authority, but it was no secret and fairly understandable from from the beginning where Henri was coming from. They were in grave danger and he was being overprotective for a reason. Duh!

On the other hand, Sarah’s uniform expression in all of her scenes did not help matters and made me wonder if the hype from Glee was the only reason Diana Agron got the part. They could have gotten a mannequin to play the part and it wouldn’t have made any difference. I liked Sam (Callan Mcauliffe) and Six (Teresa Palmer),though. They added a touch of humanity and flavor in the otherwise robotic performances of the two leads. Oh, and I also liked the beagle who played Bernie Kosar. For a while, I wasn’t sure if he was a friend or a foe but no matter what, he was still adorable.

Aside from the acting and the stereotypes that the film insisted on portraying (which limited the movie’s potential) it wasn’t a bad film at all. It had great cinematography, cool stunts and a really good soundtrack as well. If audiences can get over the oversimplified writing and the insistence into slotting every aspect of the film into a formula, it was quite passable. It had good CGI and a pretty solid source material, one that I have yet to read. I have a gut feeling that the book will be better than the movie and both Four/John and Sarah would be more likeable in their book forms. I certainly hope so.

All in all, director DJ Caruso and producer Michael Bay stuck religiously to the blockbuster formula for this one, and I would have liked for them to do something different. I felt like the movie kept a lot close to its chest, perhaps in the belief that they should keep the suspense to sustain the momentum for the following movies. The problem with that theory though, is that it runs contrary to the intention of every first movie in the franchise to blow the audiences’ socks off and leave them clamoring for more. As it stands, I would be content to just find out what happens in the books. If the movie franchise continues though, I would very much like for Sarah to die and for Four to just take up with Six. Who knows? She might rub off some of her personality and presence on him. Plus, she’s smart so maybe she could influence him out of lovesick puppy mode?  

Now is Good: Movie Review

now_is_goodI’m not a big fan of dramatic films. Seriously, I’m not. Usually, I steer clear of movies dealing with death because that’s a surefire recipe of spilling the waterworks. I almost didn’t see Now is Good because it was pretty up front about the death and the disease as the subject matter. But because I was curious to find out why Jeremy Irvine rejected the role of Peeta Mellark for this one, I knew I would not rest until I saw it.

In this Sony Pictures/BBC film production, Dakota Fanning plays 17 year-old cancer patient Tessa Scott, a girl who chooses to stop treatment and live out the rest of her life the way she wanted. In order to do so, she creates a list, which includes dancing all night, doing drugs, losing her virginity, getting a tattoo, among other things. Not all of her attempts become successful but when she meets her next door neighbor, sweet and sensitive Adam (Jeremy Irvine), she finds a renewed drive to live. Just when things are getting better, reality rears its ugly head as her disease threatens to take away her chance at happiness.

First things first. It was weird to hear Dakota Fanning with a British accent. It seemed ill fitting for her and at times, felt forced (but that could be just me). Despite this setback though, I believe she was the perfect actress to play the role of Tessa because this girl is just oozing talent.

As Tessa, she wore the depression and rebelliousness of her character like second skin until it felt so natural that audiences just needed to accept it. She gave audiences a perspective of how difficult it is to be sick with a terminal disease, and how challenging it is for the people around them to adjust, not just to thought of letting go but in dealing with the sick, as well.

There were times though, that Dakota’s acting was obviously classes beyond Jeremy’s and the portrayal took a sort of lopsided approach.

This is not to say that Jeremy Irvine is a bad actor. He has great potential but I felt like he was not yet ripe for a role that called for him to dig so deep into his psyche that he could translate his grief into his acting, much like Shane West did as Lander Carter in A Walk to Remember. There was something subdued in his portrayal when it seemed like the right thing would have been to completely let go.

I do understand now, why he turned down the Hunger Games’ iconic role for this tearjerker. Now is Good provided him with a good challenge as an actor and Adam is the type of role that audiences remember with fond feelings. And judging from his upcoming projects, his career didn’t seem to take too much of a slump from this choice.

I loved the scenes between Tessa and her dad, and at times, wanted to smack her in the head for being too callous about her dad’s eagerness to help her get well. It was also difficult to see her with her mother or her brother whose innocence was just heartbreaking.

This film had an indie sort of vibe about it that’s pretty typical for a British film and it worked for the overall tone of the movie, which was sad, retrospective and melancholy — most of the time. There were true gems of moments when the movie tackled family dynamics but real tearjerkers were in the realization of what her loss would entail. Audiences can’t help but cry in a movie like this one.

The only bright spots in an otherwise depressing movie were moments where Tessa and Adam were discovering their feelings for each other, and the sense of acceptance about what was obviously the next stop in Tessa’s story.

All in all, Now is Good is a good film that delivers on its promise. It may be depressing to watch but it has a certain sort of sweetness and innocence about it that connects the movie to the audience, and at the end of the film, allows them to let go and have closure.

Delivery Man: Movie Review

220px-Delivery_Man_PosterYears after he made over 600 donations to a sperm bank under the name of Starbuck, David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn), a directionless delivery guy for his family’s meat shop, finds out that has fathered of 533 kids and that 142 of his children are actively looking for him and forcing the lab to disclose his identity through a class suit. As if his life wasn’t complicated enough, he learns that his girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) is actually pregnant with his kid and would not have him in their life unless he cleans up his act. Challenged by her conviction, he blindly opens the envelope containing his children’s identities and seeks them out one by one to help them out in their time of need.

I was surprised to learn that this Vince Vaughn starrer was actually a remake of the French-Canadian film Starbuck (which is the name of a Canadian bull who sired 533 calves thus the name Star-buck). But at the same time, I also did not think it was uncharacteristic for this comedian to take on a project like this one. True, the premise is way out there but the reason why its so unbelievable is actually the reason why the film was so incredible.

The film’s strength actually lies with the fact that filmmakers were not trying to convince audiences that something as ridiculous as this would happen in real life but rather focused on the small details of David’s journey — his relationship with his own family, his brothers and father, his girlfriend, with his best friend — and the relationship he built with his children. The effort that he took was endearing and touching and would move even the stoniest of hearts. What’s great about it was that Vince Vaughn portrayed David as a guy who always had his heart in the right place so there was no question in the audience’s mind what his motives were in pursuing his kids.

Admittedly, I was initially worried about how David would be able to attend to all of his kids in the space of 104 minutes but it all kind of worked out really well. Key characters were established, David’s backstory about why he had to donate his sperm so many times, where he spent the money, and even why people loved him so because despite his chaotic lifestyle. Even creepy Viggo did not seem so creepy after all that was said and done. But my favorite scenes definitely would have to be the ones with his son with mental disability. The way he embraced his son’s imperfection in the cloak of silence was one of the most moving parts of the movie and depicts one of the greatest displays of parenthood. 

I just want to say that this movie was all the better for the inclusion of Brett, played by Chris Pratt, as David’s best friend — an unlicensed lawyer who, for the most part is shown in a tattered robe and close to depression while taking care of his four kids, which was why it was understandable for him to advise David to run for the hills upon learning of his girlfriend’s pregnancy, more so when they learn than he has another 142 kids who want to know him. He was really funny and cute, especially in scenes when he was trying to corral his kids or debate with them. Despite his shortcomings and seeming lack of sympathy for Stabuck’s kids, audiences knew that he had no malice and was only trying to look out for his friend, and his loyalty was reflective of his David’s personality.

All in all, Delivery Man was a story about family, and finding family in the most unexpected places. Its not the type of movie that will leave audiences with an epiphany but its a tongue in cheek look at families, and how you don’t always get what you expect with them. It shows the upside and downsides of parenting, and the hurdles that some have to go through to become actual parents. Its the type of movie that you watch to feel good, get a few good laughs and know that at the end, there will be a happy ending — pretty much a good way to spend 104 minutes of your life on.

Jake Gyllenhaal on creating the characters Adam and Anthony in Enemy

ENEMY_AnthonyWhat would you do if you discover someone who looks exactly like you?

The reality of finding your doppelganger or a mirror image or yourself is the intriguing premise of the upcoming psychosexual thriller ENEMY, released by Solar Pictures.

Based on the novel “The Double” by José Saramago, ENEMY tells the story of a university lecturer named Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is nearing the end of a relationship with his girlfriend Mary (Melanie Laurent). One night, while watching a film, Adam spots a minor actor who looks just like him. Consumed by the desire to meet his double, Adam tracks down Anthony (Jake Gyllenhaal), an actor living with his pregnant wife Helen (Sarah Gadon) and engages him in a complex and dangerous struggle.

“In terms of finding a lead actor for these dual parts, I was looking for someone who I would be able to share creativity and collaborate with,” notes Academy Award Nominated director Denis Villeneuve (INCENDIES, PRISONERS).

“In Jake I found someone that was highly intelligent and creative. He had a beautiful vision for the characters. It’s always fantastic for a director when your lead actor is so good that you can just follow him instead of telling him where to go. I love that.”

“When Jake’s name was first put on the table we immediately realized we needed him,” recalls ENEMY Spanish producer Miguel A. Faura. “Not only is he an extremely gifted actor capable of delivering the wide range of subtleties needed for these two roles, but he has always showcased his taste and love for art and cinema in each role he has taken on. When he said yes, we felt not only lucky, but reaffirmed about the inner quality of our project.”

“First and foremost I wanted to make this movie because I think Denis is an incredible filmmaker,” says Gyllenhaal. “I was really drawn to the incredible script which offered an interesting blueprint for what Denis wanted to do with this idea. When I first met with Denis and talked about the film, his idea of what it was and what he wanted it to be far surpassed what the script was saying.”

Gyllenhaal had the unique task of playing two different characters that become entwined in each other’s lives. As can be expected, there was a delicate dance involved in creating the similarities and differences between the two characters. Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal agreed early on that the differences between Adam and Anthony should lie in subtleties.

“There are so many ways that you can go with this movie and I think probably the hardest one, the most interesting one, was making Adam and Anthony as close to each other as possible,” notes Gyllenhaal. “There’s the world in which one character has a beard and the other one doesn’t and one talks with a funny accent and the other one doesn’t. That would have been an incredibly vain way of going about it and I think, in a way, that’s exactly what this movie isn’t about.”

“I made choices early on about the characters and, as a result, Adam and Anthony started to separate from each other. I knew that I had to fall in love with both of them and that there couldn’t be any judgment for either of the characters even while being in the scene with the other one,” explains Gyllenhaal. “What’s interesting about playing two characters in the same scene is the literal comparison of what you’re doing. I actually created the character of Adam before Anthony even showed up on the scene and the first time I worked as Anthony was when he was right across from Adam.” The film centers on Adam’s psychological struggle and, as Gyllenhaal notes, the notion of struggle is very apparent in both Adam and Anthony. “These two characters are struggling with the same thing in a different way but inevitably one of them has to let go and give up in order for the other to survive. The question of which one it’s going to be is ultimately what the movie is about,” states Gyllenhaal.

Distributed by Solar Pictures, Enemy opens in cinemas on July 30, 2014.

Insurgent: Book Review

insurgentSYNOPSIS: Tobias, Tris, Peter and a handful of Abnegation members flee the city to seek temporary sanctuary with Amity, but they discover that the Erudite’s action has split their former faction in half. Some have found allies in Candor while Dauntless traitors led by Dauntless leaders Eric and Max have pledged allegiance to Jeanette Matthews and her mission to rule the government. As Tobias and Tris reunite with their friends, they realize that things will never be the same so long as the Erudite has the power to rule, with her quench to eliminate the Divergent part of her marching orders for her army. As they take the fight to her however, they need stronger allies. The question is – could the allies be trusted to keep their word or do they have an agenda of their own?

I loved the first book in the Divergent trilogy and found myself compelled to grab the second book immediately after finishing the first one. I was intrigued about the extent of the Erudite plot and was amazed by how complicated this book was. There was something going on from all corners but somehow, author Veronica Roth was able to organize the chaos into a gripping social analysis encased in a dystopian fictional setting.

Insurgent attacks all of the readers emotions. With the loss of Tris’s family, they will feel grief and with Tobias’s struggle to come to terms with what happened during his childhood, a more vulnerable side to this competent hero comes to focus. As Tris deals with the guilt about what happened to Will and some choices that she and Tobias don’t see eye to eye on, issues take a toll on their relationship until they are forced to come to terms with each other’s motives.

While their relationship in Divergent was at its tentative stages, it becomes more intense in Insurgent as their romantic ties and their other issues (like being in danger and being the target of Erudite’s army for being Divergent, or being involved in the war) intermingle with each other and muddle their relationship. But what I liked despite all of these issues is Tobias’s faith in Tris’s strength and his obvious love for her, that she does not quite see because of her inexperience in dealing with the opposite sex. This is both cute and frustrating. There were times when I wanted to smack her silly for being too dense, but this is part of her character’s charm, in my opinion.

Insurgent gives readers their first glimpse at the factionless as a group. Whereas before, the factionless were merely depicted like the homeless, relying only on the charity of the Abnegation, in Insurgent, their full force is revealed and their leader is also became quite a surprise.

Alliances are tested, doubts are explored, aid comes from the most unlikely of places and betrayal becomes a most painful part of the equation. The second book in the Divergent trilogy did not pull any punches and served up blow after blow with each chapter.
I think the best part about Insurgent, despite it’s prolonged dwelling on Tris’s dilemma to make the ultimate sacrifice, is that each aspect of the book proceeds at almost the same pace and not one angle is left too far behind the other. Everything blows up all at the same time. And while readers will want to take a break after one chapter of intense battling, they would be compelled to go straight to the next page instead to find out the aftermath.

One of my favorite parts of the book is that despite the hit that Dauntless took from the events of the first book, the Dauntless still have the same spirit and courage to pick up the pieces to take the fight to the Erudite leadership. But Jeanette’s conviction that there is something bigger that needs to be addressed (in order to justify her obsession with the Divergent) piqued my curiosity to no end, especially after Marcus hinted at the same information. I knew there was a big picture, but Veronica Roth chose the right moment to drop the bomb, and it worked really well for the book.

Different sides are presented about characters earlier introduced in the first book, but not all of them are pretty. There are times when black is not so clearly different from white and I think these gray areas are what hooks readers into the story. They are drawn into the story and forced to make decisions along with the characters, and as such, they become much more involved about the outcome.

All in all, the stakes are higher with Insurgent and everything is amped up, but even as the story moves forward, and shocks are delivered a mile a minute, the book stays grounded to its source  retains its strengths from the first installment. Its still well written, excellently narrated, and just as exciting as Divergent, perhaps even more. As a penultimate offering, it surpasses all expectations and delivers the action in spades.

Divergent: Book Review

divergent_hqSYNOPSIS: In the dystopian city of Chicago, a faction system keeps order in society. When children reach the age of 16, they participate in a Choosing ceremony which will determine whether they opt to stay with their families in their faction or settle for another faction. Those who are inclined towards courage choose Dauntless. Those who value intelligence choose Erudite. Those who think honesty is the best virtue choose Candor. Those who wish to live in peace and harmony go with Amity. Those who value selflessness and service to others choose Abnegation. In order to help them make their choice, the teens undergo an aptitude test to see which faction they should belong but unlike the others, the choice will not be easy for Abnegation-born Beatrice Prior, because she learns that she has more than one of the virtues and this makes her a rare breed called Divergent. But being Divergent has its risks because there are those who go to extreme lengths to eradicate the Divergent from society because they cannot be controlled, and Beatrice knows that she must hide her secret to survive.

Its weird because I saw the movie first before I read the book, and I loved the movie because there was such a strong chemistry among the cast, especially lead stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James. I was thinking, how could I muster enough enthusiasm for the movie’s origin material when I pretty much know what’s going to happen? Turns out I shouldn’t have worried because even as the movie remained faithful to the main elements of the book, the book was awesome in its own right, possibly even more so because it provided an in depth perspective from Tris due to the first person narrative.

What I loved most about the books was that Tris, despite being a heroine in a dystopian world, was pretty relatable to readers across ages, but mostly with teens because she harbors the same insecurities and the same challenges about making choices, being at a loss about making decisions, making friends, and of course falling in love. I loved that she was a flawed heroine but she was able to overcome her flaws because of her inner strength and her drive t push forward. I loved her innocence most of all because of her upbringing and her occasional prudishness. It’s a refreshing change and a contrast to their liberated way of doing things in Dauntless. She could well be a transfer student from another school — her anxieties were the same as the usual teens, just amplified more because she was going to learn to survive from training after all.

I also loved that the book talked a lot about the people surrounding Tris to give readers a better understanding of her motivations. The movie introduced her friends but did not dwell too much on their personalities and that was understandable yet a shame because they were very rich characters, especially Al and Christina. But I loved Four the most because even from the books, he was the type of hero that readers  find themselves levitating towards. He is smart and shy but sensitive, and makes a perfect foil for Tris because they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I love that he was the first to say I love you to Tris and that final scene on the train totally made me melt.

There wasn’t much of a surprise with Divergent but the book was obviously setting up towards the bigger picture and leaves no doubt that more layers in the plot to eliminate Divergents will unfold in the next installments.

All in all, Divergent was a very strong beginning to the trilogy. I loved to read Divergent because Tris’s voice just seemed to reach out and grab readers into the story. Its explores fear and courage and how people respond to these phenomenon and inspires readers towards the latter.Excellent writing on the part of Veronica Roth, seamless transitioning and a lot of action packed between the pages. Divergent was funny, endearing, exciting and larger than life. It was about family, friends, romance and recognizing the person within and having the courage to be that person. What a great read. My only complaint would have to be that Tobias is not really a super cool name for such a cool guy as Four, but then again, I got used to the same well enough so I guess that nullifies my complaint.

The Death Cure: Book Review

The_Death_CureSYNOPSIS: After Thomas and the Gladers successfully complete The Scorch Trials, they are taken by WICKED for the final test to discover the pattern that will reveal the cure for the dreaded Flare disease. Thomas is isolated from his friends for close to a month before WICKED Assistant Director Janssen (Rat Man) gives him and the other survivors the opportunity to remove the Swipe from their brains to recover their memories. He also learns that he is immune from the Flare and so are most of the other Gladers from Groups A and B. However, there are a few who are not immune, part of a control group WICKED has included to get the best results from the tests. Filled with distrust, Minho, Thomas and Newt refuse the procedure and devise a plan to escape and take down WICKED once and for all. In the course of their journey, they discover the extent of the virus’s damage in the world filled with people gripped by madness.

I finished the last book in the trilogy faster than the first two books and it was because of the amount of questions that I wanted answers to. What was the extent of Thomas’s involvement in developing the trials, what the backgrounds of the Gladers were before they were included in the experiments, could Brenda and Jorge be trusted and what was the killzone? For the most part, The Death Cure managed to provide the answers to these questions but without Thomas actually regaining his memories, or without learning what the other Gladers were before the trials, there were many gray areas that prevented me from connecting emotionally to the situation.

There was also a lingering doubt about the loyalty of Brenda althroughout the book, perhaps because of her connection with Chancellor Paige and I just could not understand why Thomas blindly believed in her. Thomas’s relationship with Teresa, which was one of the main storylines from the first book, also never quite recovered from what happened at The Scorch Trials and this, I think worked in favor of the book and against it. In a sense, it added to the suspense and sense of mystery as to whom to trust, but on the other hand, it felt like an open wound that would not close. For me, there was a great big loophole in the story when Thomas did not question why Jorge lied about Teresa and the rest of the Gladers leaving ahead of them from the WICKED facility. While Brenda and Jorge did help them escape, I did not understand Thomas’s blind faith in the two when they were clearly working for another member of WICKED, whom he knew nothing about. And of course, there’s Gally and the Right Arm. While I understand why Thomas would want to side with a group so dead set against WICKED, he did not think things through or ask about their motives of how they would set out to achieve their mission. This was really very uncharacteristic of the Thomas from the first two books.

While reading The Death Cure, I felt like I was transported into the pages of a Walking Dead comic book and it even had a World War Z vibe going on with all of the Cranks going on full attack mode — the chaos, the destruction, the utter lack of humanity. Still, I felt like like Denver was a merely a detour intended to hype up the final revelation as to what the pattern is and what should be done to get it from the killzone.

If I had a favorite part in the book, it would be the first part when Minho, Thomas and Newt stood firm in not wanting to get the Swipe removed. I loved that the Rat Man called them rebels and the I admired the strength of their resolve to take down WICKED with only the three of them. The David vs Goliath scenario was a winner. While the Newt storyline broke my heart, it was one of the strongest points of the book, in my opinion.

All in all, I am still on the fence about how the series ended. It seemed harsh and coldhearted and in the end, it would seem that WICKED still had the last laugh. There were a lot of things I liked about the ending, when they returned to the Maze to finish what they started. After reading the entire thing, I felt like it delivered everything that a climactic finale should, but it made me feel sad, because of all the deaths and future deaths destined to happen in the new world. After The Death Cure, I felt like there were still too many questions about what happened BEFORE, and perhaps this was the reason that James Dashner wrote the prequel The Kill Order. The Death Cure was well written and engaging, just like the first two books but I felt like it should have delivered more closure.

The Scorch Trials: Book Review

250px-The_Scorch_Trials_coverSYNOPSIS: After escaping from the Maze, the Gladers are rescued from WICKED by a group of rebels and taken to a “safe” facility. When they wake up however, they realize that their safety was just an illusion when it is revealed that WICKED is not yet done with their experiments. This time, each Glader wakes up marked with cryptic tattoos that supposedly label their roles in the group for their new task. Teresa is taken from their ranks and is replaced by a boy named Aris, who is supposedly part of Group B, who escaped from a maze identical to that of the Gladers with a reverse ratio of boys to girls. Aris shares the same telephatic ability as Thomas and is Group B’s version of Teresa. Now, the Gladers are told that they are infected with a fatal disease called The Flare, which causes madness and death to its victims, and their only hope is reaching a place called safe haven in two week’s time. With meager supplies and dangers straight in their paths, the boys are in a race for survival, unsure of whom to trust, their mettle tested by the most brutal of circumstances.

The Scorch Trials is far different in tone than its predecessor The Maze Runner. Whereas in MR, the Gladers only had to deal with one major problem (escaping the maze and consequently battling the Grievers) in a controlled environment, the second test is far more challenging and dangerous as they set out on a world destroyed by sun flares and ravaged by disease. In the Scorch Trials, WICKED has basically laid out the task in front of the boys and told them that there would be no mercy for them in embarking on their journey as only the strongest will be rewarded with the cure. The Gladers are picked off one by one, by the barren wastelands that has become of Earth, the crazed Cranks (those who have been infected by the Flare) who are no strangers to murder and even cannibalism. Technology is used mercilessly by WICKED against the remaining Gladers resulting in a much brutal slaying of the weakest of the bunch. Not to mention Group B, whose sole mission is to kill Thomas. In short, there were more Variables in play which makes it harder for the boys to accomplish their task.

More questions also arise as Thomas begins to remember snippets of his life before the Glade and his involvement in developing the Trials, but just enough to get readers curious and form their own theories. This is a stroke of genius on the part of author James Dashner because the mystery that surrounds Thomas continues to grow, and at the same time, his feelings for Teresa also begins to evolve. It becomes more complicated as they begin to see the Trials in different ways — Teresa seemingly resigned and unshaken by their role with WICKED, and Thomas beginning to question his actions before the Glade. I like that the book did not dwell too much on the romantic connection between Thomas and Teresa but rather focused on the bigger picture, continuing to build towards the climax that is expected in the final book in the trilogy — The Death Cure. Well, I’m hoping this is what Dashner is going for anyway.

As for the characters, Dashner continues to bank on the strength of the characters he developed in the first book. Newt takes a slight backseat to Minho in this installment but nonetheless showed the same characteristics that made him so likeable in the beginning like his intelligence, practicality and calm demeanor. Minho, who was assigned as leader of the Gladers was a great choice to lead the boys, showing bravery, sense of humor, sometimes hotheadedness, and quick thinking for decisions that need to be made (mostly involving life and death) which is characteristic of his role as Keeper of the Runners. His bromance with Thomas continues in this book and their relationship is one of the strong points of The Scorch Trials because of his fierce loyalty to his friend. As a new character, Aris didn’t pop out as much as he should even given his role in the twist, but there is potential for him in the sequel given his special abilities. Same with Brenda, although she seemed a bit too clingy for my tastes.

All in all, The Scorch Trials was a well written young adult post apocalyptic adventure piece, that for me, felt more like a teaser of the things to come in the trilogy’s concluding chapter. It was a bit darker and more graphic but it definitely leveled up on all aspects of the first book. I would have liked for Group B to have more participation to play up the competition between the sexes (especially since it was mentioned several times that they got out of the Maze three days earlier than the boys and lost less people) but with the combined group of survivors and the upcoming revelation of mysteries behind WICKED, I have high hopes for Dashner’s next book. That and the fact that I want to know if my hypotheses are correct. And this is why I am happy that I waited for all books to come out before I started reading it.

The Following: Season 2 Review

season 2How can a series involving a group of psychotic killers get any more terrifying? Series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries)  knows the answer and he used every inch of his creative genius to set the new path for Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his new set of followers in the second season of Fox’s The Following.

A year after Claire’s death, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) seems to be living a normal life — staying healthy, teaching at University, making new friends and even reaching out to his family, more specifically his niece Max (Jessica Stroup), a New York police detective. On the surface, Ryan seemed on the top of his game, but this is only because he and Max are secretly working on weeding out the remainder of Joe’s followers, and even Joe himself, as Ryan believes that his arch nemesis did not die in the Lighthouse incident. When Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) is called in by the FBI to consult for a killing spree in a New York subway train involving perpetrators using Joe Carroll masks, Ryan is convinced that Carroll is up to his usual antics. What he didn’t see coming was the appearance of a much more powerful villain, with more resources, and just the same amount of crazy that Joe has.

I thought that the first season of The Following was awesome and thrilling but Season 2 upped the ante with double the amount of crazies, this time involving twin psycho killers Mark and Luke (both played by Sam Underwood from Dexter). Underwood actually impressed me the most this season because of this kid has loads of intensity and portrays both of his characters with a sort of vulnerability and desperation that made viewers relate to him. However, he was still able to make them separate entities for the viewers. I really thought that there were actual twins playing the role at first but kudos to Sam for doing such a great job. Despite the obvious psychopathy, I actually liked his character so much I sometimes forgot that I was on Team Ryan.

I also liked the development of Mike and Ryan’s relationship this season and Mike’s evolution from a smart, by the book FBI agent to a dark and driven version of his old self after he suffered personal losses and started obsessing about his own nemesis. There were a couple of times Ryan and Joe mentioned that he was turning into Ryan and I liked  that despite the fact that he was going dark, he was basically the same dude. This was a challenging season for Shawn Ashmore, indeed and he stepped up the plate and delivered. Plus I liked his character’s chemistry with Max, specially in the last episode. They make a great pair and gave the show a breath of fresh air from all the mayhem and violence.

Speaking of character development, Joe and Ryan’s weird  bromance was one of the main highlights of this season. The last three episodes had Joe expounding on his connection with Ryan and how he was his best friend, which was weird but made a lot of sense considering the odds — how similar they were and how they were both obsessed with the other. It was creepy but it made a lot of sense. It was a defining moment that wasn’t there in the first season despite the constant taunting and it was a great moment to see.

At first, I was actually wondering how the second season would play out. I knew that the guy in the lighthouse was a very important component in building season 2 but the twist still surprised me. What surprised me even more was how Joe managed to build another set of followers, this time using religion as a base and abandoning the Edgar Allan Poe route. It was scary how Joe was able to easily manipulate and brainwash Korban cult members into believing that he was a prophet and that he holds the key to salvation, and that in real life how the possibility is also open. How easy to convert religious fanaticism into psychotic killer obsession was one of the most horrifying realizations this season presented.

Admittedly, this season was not perfect. There were a lot of facepalm moments for Ryan at the beginning when he stubbornly refused to involve Mike and went all maverick on the cops with his own investigation. His carelessness was astounding but so was the FBI’s inability to track Joe and his followers despite all of the resources available to them. I was glad when Ryan finally decided to let Mike in on his team and their trio with Max was complete. At least he had some solid backup. All I could say about this ragtag team is that they have the luck of the Irish. It seemed like there were close calls in almost all of the episodes. I was so tired worrying about them. It was exciting but very very exhausting.

All in all, Season 2 was definitely more violent and showed less regard for human (or animal) life, depicting them as disposable tools to build a legacy. Viewers will learn more about the motivation of Joe and Ryan and the ending seemed like it could work as a series finale as well. But it was also open for a third season, which according to reports will be helmed by a new showrunner Jennifer Johnson from Alcatraz. It would be interesting to see what she brings to the table when it seems that the Carroll/Hardy chapter (the strongest storyline of the show) has drawn to a close.

The Maze Runner: Book Review

The_Maze_Runner_coverFor a book with the title The Maze Runner, the lead character surprisingly does very little running.

I’m a big fan of young adult fiction, despite being a full grown adult. I like stories of adventure and discovery and even with volume of YA novels tackling a post-apocalyptic world of late, I still enjoy reading about them. I’ve actually read a review of The Maze Runner several years ago and thought that it would be a great addition to my TBR pile but when I learned that it was going to be a three-part series, I chose to go The Hunger Games route and wait for all three books on paperback before I started reading it. It was a good call on my part (I think) because now, I get to read about Thomas and the Gladers uninterrupted by a long wait.

SYNOPSIS: Thomas wakes up in a lift disoriented and surrounded by several dozen boys in a huge glade, with his memory wiped clean of everything except his name. The glade, it would seem, was part of a strange new environment, which includes a farm, a homestead, a giant moving maze complete with deadly half mechanical half organic monsters called Grievers, who have killed Gladers (what the residents call themselves) for attempting to escape. Thomas has tons of questions but at the same time feels a familiarity with his new surroundings that he can’t quite put a finger on. Things start to get way more eerie when the first girl is delivered to the maze a day after Thomas’s arrival bearing a message that seems to mean the end of the line for the Gladers.

Thomas is pretty much everything that a lead character in a YA novel should be. He’s smart, he’s curious and there’s a certain mystery to his past that makes him intriguing and interesting. Author James Dashner dropped all sorts of bread crumbs as to Thomas’s identity even from the beginning to set him apart from the others, and he lived up to the build-up. The rest of the characters too, were well developed and well written, and readers will find themselves identifying with the characters even as they try to figure out the puzzle that is the maze. My favorites were actually Newt and Minho, two of the Keepers (councilmen) of the Glade – Newt because he is such a strong leader, sensitive but very logical, and Minho because he’s just so brave and cool despite his short breakdown at the Maze. I liked that they had blind faith in Thomas and didn’t judge him when they finally found out what his role in the Maze was, which spoke of great maturity on their part. I especially loved Chuck – he didn’t show it till the end but he was both smart and brave, loyal and innocent to boot.

In truth, The Maze Runner actually reminded me of Harry Potter’s fourth installment The Goblet of Fire, obviously because of the huge maze and the deadly creatures lurking in it, but it was also reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies with the boys building a community and establishing order in their small version of society. But while Lord of the Flies was a subtle political commentary and Harry Potter was focused on the magic and Harry’s battle with the evil Lord Voldemort, The Maze Runner retained its own identity by focusing the mystery of what lies beyond the Glade and the Maze, especially with the group called WICKED, whom the Gladers refer to as the creators.

It was quite creative for Dashner to come up with Glade lingo that ensures that he can pretty much use the f word freely, as would be natural for sixty something boys living in a single space, by substituting swear words with slang that sounds the same and means the same, but is wholesome enough for his young readers. Shuck for the most obvious swear word, klunk for dung, Greenie for greenhorn, are only some of the more colorful ones in the set. I also liked that while there were sacrifices and brutal deaths involved, Dashner left the conclusion to the imagination rather than be graphic about it.

The twist in the end was not all that surprising but it was horrifying to know that WICKED was not yet done with the survivors and that Phase 2 was just around the corner. I was much more curious about what Ava Paige meant when she said Group B. It seemed quite ominous.

All in all, The Maze Runner was a great read. It was exciting and engaging in all the right parts. I would have liked more things to happen inside the maze to level up the feeling of danger and despair but I might be getting that in the next books so for now, I am content. What I really liked about the book was Dashner’s high level of sensitivity for his young audiences, and that is why The Maze Runner is highly recommended for young readers with a taste for adventure. Adult readers who are more aligned with the writing style of Suzanne Collins might not be as satisfied because this book has less intensity but Thomas and the Gladers are a likeable lot and it would be hard not to cheer them on, especially since they have displayed such marvelous qualities of great literary heroes.