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 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.

Bates Motel Season 2: Series Review

Bates-MotelAnd the plot thickens…

After the mysterious death of Norman’s teacher Ms. Blair Watson, Norma (Vera Farmiga) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) welcome new friends into their lives. Norma meets Christine, a socialite who takes an immediate liking to her, and Norman forms a bond with Cody, a troubled girl whose rebellious personality is the exact opposite of Norman’s uptight upbringing. While Norma continues to oppose the construction of the bypass by forming an unlikely alliance with Nick Ford, a dangerous man who holds real power in the town, Norma’s estranged brother Caleb makes an appearance that disrupts Norma’s fragile relationship with Dylan (Max Theriot), who is dealing with troubles in his own professional life. Apparently, the drug bosses are becoming frisky and combative with each other following the death of one of their own and its up to Dylan and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) to restore some sort of order in White Pine Bay’s drug trade.

I was very impressed with Bates Motel’s pilot season and I am even more astounded by its second season. The show just keeps getting better as more layers to Norman’s mental illness is uncovered. I think aside from the strong performances of the cast, the show was really able to explore the possibilities of Norman’s early life, his dysfunctional family, and his gradual descent into madness and this hooks audiences to the show, present company not exempted. What I liked about the progression of the story is actually the writers’ ability to leave audiences wondering about a question left as a cliffhanger in the final episode of last season — the death of Blair Watson. The question about whether or not Norman was responsible for it was not a main highlight of the storyline but it was always there, skimming the surface and ready to be brought out at any point of the season. The uncertainty of the answer made viewers obsess about it even as the Bates dealt with various issues that pitted them at the center of almost everything essential happening in White Pine Bay, and the manner in which the issue was resolved was absolutely brilliant.

The shifting dynamics in Norman’s family was also part of the show’s major draws. Whereas before, it was only him and his mother, Dylan — towards the end of the last season was already becoming the balancing factor in the dynamic, which was only torn down and rebuilt throughout this season. Dylan had a bigger role in Season 2 because much of the storyline revolved around him and his issues. The way he begrudgingly protected his family despite feeling like an outsider for the most part, was really sweet. Its a weird description for such a dark show but there were just moments where viewers would just want to give the characters a big hug. Sure, Emma was sometimes annoying in wanting to stick her nose in everything but she genuinely cared for the Bates so its not hard to forgive her. And I kinda liked her letting her hair down with Gunner, who was such a cutie. I’m a bit sorry that his character just disappeared.

I also loved the underlying sexual tension between Sheriff Romero and Norma Bates. These two were adorable in their encounters and I would very much like to see them get together in future seasons. It just worries me though when the characters I like get close to the Bates because a lot of them die. Seriously. But aside from the chemistry, these two actors were outstanding — Vera as the mother who would stop at nothing to protect her son and Carbonell as the lawmaker who is trying his best to bring justice to the crimes in his town.

All in all, Season 2 was much stronger because of the brewing distrust between mother and son as Norman learns about what he is and what he is capable of when he has his blackouts. As the series moves forward, it was cool to see Norman foreshadowing the Norman Bates of the 1960 Psycho, in which the series was inspired. The taxidermy in the living room, channeling his mother, and having monologues and the rage — all of it was excellently depicted by Freddie Highmore and while before he had an air of innocence about him because of his youth, there is no doubt that he is not normal, not by any stretch of the imagination everytime he flies off the handle. Its interesting to see how this show goes. There is just so much potential.

Elysium: Movie Review

elysium-movie-2560x1440Its 2154 and the earth as we know it is in shambles. The rich and powerful have left the planet and built a paradise of a space station called Elysium where there is no poverty, no disease — where citizens live in luxury oblivious and uncaring about the plight of those who still live on the planet. Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-convict trying to get his act together by keeping his job at a droid manufacturing company for slave wages and inhumane working conditions. When he is accidentally exposed to a toxic dose of radiation due to a workplace accident, he receives news that he has only five days to live. Left with no choice, he returns to the underground to do a final job for Spider (Wagner Moura), whose business is to smuggle humans to Elysium, in exchange for a one way ticket to the space station and the medical care he needs to survive. With his luck though, the job turns out to be more complicated than he expected and he becomes the subject of a manhunt by the ruthless Defense Secretary Delacroix (Jodie Foster) and her psychotic mercenary Kruger  (Sharlto Copley).

From the start, there is a certain familiarity to the Earth depicted in this movie. The feel of the movie also has a hint of deja vu. The reason? Director Neil Blomkamp, who helmed the 2009 surprise hit District 9 also directed Elysium. He even cast Sharlto Copley, his breakout star in D9 as a villain this time and I must say that this was a great move to showcase the actor’s versatility. What I liked about District 9 when I first saw it was the rawness and the grittiness of an earth in desolation. While District 9 was shot documentary style, Elysium managed to retain the same conditions and make it work for a mainstream approach.

Matt Damon is a fine actor, and an intelligent one. He adapts to different types of roles like a chameleon and he doesn’t even break a sweat doing it. In Elysium, he manages to pull off the portrayal of a man desperate to do anything to save himself, and show his inner turmoil between doing the right thing and getting what he needed. I think his best scenes were with him and Julio (Diego Luna) although I would have appreciated more dramatics on this part to boost his motivation to get back at the government, and the his last scene with Spider in Elysium. I think what is lacking in the movie are the scenes that solidify  Max’s rage to justify  his final epiphany. Had these scenes been properly established, I have no doubt that the film could have given Gladiator a run for its money.

While Jodie Foster was supposed to be the main villain, Sharlto Copley kind of stole the show from her with his unintelligible dialogue and general lack of hygiene. It kind of made him seem more menacing somehow. He reminded me of Megatron in the desert especially when he was wearing a tattered cloak in the boonies.

Elysium had a lot going for it. Good action sequences, great CGI and a solid story with an underlying social commentary about politics that mirrors current world scenarios. Human smuggling, poverty, inequality, all in glaring contrast to the elite who vacation in France and St. Tropez, who have access to luxuries and the finest wine.

All in all, Elysium managed to balance out the dramatics with the action, making for one engaging film that is visually and emotionally compelling. As far as Sci Fi goes, it is not as good as District 9 but  it held its own as a standalone.

White House Down: Movie Review

White_House_Down_Theatrical_PosterWhen I first heard that there was another movie coming out about the White House being attacked by terrorists, so soon after watching Olympus Has Fallen, I kind of immediately had reservations about seeing it. On the surface, the plot was too similar not to make any comparisons between the two movies but when I finally buckled down to see White House Down, it was  an entirely different experience altogether.

John Cale (Channing Tatum), an ex-Marine who served three tours in Afghanistan only wanted two things when he went to the White House for a job interview — a) get a job in the President’s Secret Service, and b) make it up to his daughter Emily (Joey King), an 11-year-old political blogger, for missing her performance at her school’s talent show. When a group of armed extremists execute an assault on the White House, it is up to John to save President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx) and the 60 hostages trapped in the Capitol.

From the beginning, it was obvious that White House Down was going for a different vibe from the hard action and emotionally exhausting Olympus Has Fallen. Despite the similarities in the plot and movie elements, WHD chose to cast a younger, fresher, slightly goofier lead character in John Cale who balances zingers and witty one liners with the weight of the crisis. I was expecting Jamie Foxx to break out the yuks too but I guess that would have been uncharacteristic for the leader of the free world. Joey King, who played John’s daughter Emily, is also a young actress to watch out for. Not only is she beautiful but she portrays her role so seamlessly and blends well with all of the other characters in all of her roles. Also noteworthy is James Woods who played disillusioned Secret Service boss Walker. But then again, he’s James Woods. He can do no wrong.

What’s great about White House Down was that the story was more plausible and allowed the film to have more dimensions. It allowed itself to pace itself in a way that introduced levels to the plot. The story took detours before the reveal of the real mastermind and this was great for the audience because involves them in the story.

All in all, WHD was not just an action movie but it was also a buddy comedy and in a sense, it was also a family drama. It made watching the White House burn more fun (I’m looking at you director Roland Emmerich). But let’s face it, it was the Channing Tatum show and Jamie was really only there to lend the support. The way the film turned out, Channing totally deserved the limelight. A great watch. It totally had me alternately laughing my head off and biting my fingernails.

5 most hated characters from Under the Dome (series)

I just finished catching up on Under the Dome last night and boy, that was literally a hanging ending. Actually, I keep wondering after seeing the last four episodes if I made the right choice at all in sticking with this series because Chester’s Mill surely took its fair share of stupid townspeople. And what worse agony than to be trapped underneath a mysterious upside down fishbowl with people whose brains well and truly need a jumpstart? Well, as a viewer trying to digest the sheer stupidity of 80 percent of the lead characters, I think is a fate that can rival that of Col. Dale “Barbie” Barbara, the only sane member of the community.

Take note that in the interest of fairness, I have opened my IMDB page on the next tab to show the list of the entire cast so I don’t miss anybody in my scrutiny. After much thought,  here’s a rundown of my five most hated characters in the television version of Chester’s Mill:

POWER MAD DICTATOR. Big JIm can weasel his way out of any situation because in the Mill, he is  a god.

POWER MAD DICTATOR. Big Jim can weasel his way out of any situation because in the Mill, he is a god.

5. Big Jim Rennie (Dean Norris) — As the series’ main antagonist, you would think that the town’s tyrant of an assemblyman would rank higher than #5 but perhaps this would illustrate my frustration at the rest of the characters of this darned town. My beef with Big Jim is actually not that he is so evil but that Dean Norris’ portrayal of the town’s consummate politician is lacking in terms of intensity.

4. Chester’s Mill Townsfolk – Yes, I am including the entire population of Chester’s Mill in this entry because of their lack of brain and willpower to even question the decisions made by one man — even feeding his already bloated ego by agreeing with all his decisions, even though they are obviously wrong. I understand that they are in a crisis but still, shouldn’t people be more proactive in a situation dealing with survival?

PRETTY DRY. There is no doubt that Rachelle Lefevre is gorgeous but her portrayal of a leading character leaves a lot to be desired.

PRETTY DRY. There is no doubt that Rachelle Lefevre is gorgeous but her portrayal of a leading character leaves a lot to be desired.

3. Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre) – As one of the bigger stars cast for this series, and kicking ass as the original Victoria in the Twilight series, I had expected Lefevre to do well as the big city journalist who transplanted into a small town. I don’t know if her ineffectiveness is entirely her fault because there is really no indication of being a journalist in the progression of her character except for that one scene where she was following Junior around at the beginning of the series. There is no sense of urgency in even the direst of circumstances and in the moments where she should be following up on her leads, she seems ‘lackadaisical’ (a word I learned from Stephen King’s book) at best. I don’t know. I just don’t know about her. I’m very disappointed about her one dimensional approach to the character. And for someone who is supposed to save the town, she is more often than not in the receiving end of the saving (courtesy of Barbie).

I AM NOT AMUSED. With this expression perpetually pasted on her face, there is no wonder why I hate her character.

I AM NOT AMUSED. With this expression perpetually pasted on her face, there is no wonder why I hate her character.

2. Angie Mcallister (Brit Robertson) – I think I don’t really have a problem with the Angie McAllister character but rather, my problem is the portrayal of Britt Robertson. The character seems to be doing stuff that makes sense (for the most part) but her facial expressions just gets on my nerves. She isn’t very smart but she acts like she knows everything plus , she’s such a jerk to Junior, who, while admittedly psychotic, is a sweetie. way to provoke somebody who is mentally disturbed. I hope Junior kills her soon. Scr*w you, Angie. It doubly sucks that we share the same name.

and last but definitely not least…

DUMBASS. Nuff said.

DUMBASS. Nuff said.

1. Linda Esquivel (Natalie Martinez) – If given a chance, I would respectfully submit a new definition for the word dumbass in the dictionary and I will move that the picture of this dense, clueless police chief from the town of Chester’s Mill be placed beside it. There is no wonder Cote de Pablo of NCIS rejected the part when it was offered to her because this character sucks big time and no amount of money can compensate for the humiliation that will go along the actor’s resume for playing this role. Not only is this girl gullible, but she consistently makes wrong choices at every turn. Case in point, after finding out that Big Jim is involved in illegal activities, she still seeks and heeds his counsel, doing nothing at the face of his tyranny. If the fate of the town rests on her shoulders, apocalypse will come sooner than two seasons in the Mill.

So, what do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me?

For my review of the series, click this link: http://cineramaetcetera.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/under-the-dome-series-review/

Olympus Has Fallen: Movie Review

405px-Olympus_Has_Fallen_posterWith the number of blockbuster movies to watch out for this year, Olympus Has Fallen seemed undermarketed compared to expected hits like Iron Man, The Hunger Games, Oblivion, The Host and the like. However, looking closer into this movie. One would find that it has a pretty solid cast, a rather ambitious premise and a potential to be one wicked action thriller. On most counts, i believe it delivered.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is the lead Secret Service agent detailed to the White House but more than that, he enjoys a close relationship with President Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his family. But when an accident makes the President lose confidence in his friend, Mike is exiled to the Treasury Office, where he still keeps one eye out for his commander in chief from a distance. When tension reignites in the Korean peninsula and the the South Korean Prime Minister visits the White House to seek the help of the United States against the North, the White House is blindsided by a daring assault in which its top officials are caught in a compromising situation. With the top brass at gunpoint, all that stands between the fall of Seoul and the future of the United States is the Speaker of the House Allan Trumbull (Morgan Freeman) and Mike Banning.

If one would ignore the glaring loopholes in the story (e.g. lapses in security protocol, the ability of the main antagonist to infiltrate the government without anybody doing a background check, the slow response time of the military and the sheer idiocy of the Secret Service strategy), it would be very easy to enjoy this movie. Directed by the dude who helmed Training Day and The Replacement Killers (Antoine Fuqua), this movie was not short of  amazing strategy, thrills and cool action sequences.  It had sort of a Die Hard vibe going for it but on a larger scale because never have I seen a movie in which the White House decimated on such a level so strategically and so efficiently. Hats off to the writers Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt for the sheer brilliance of the material.

Olympus is the type of movie that will have audiences on the edge of their seats because of the suspense and those with weak stomachs to head for the door for the sheer brutality of the scenes. More than the violence, it gets audiences to think about what’s going on in the world today, especially since North Korea is cast anew by Hollywood as the villain of the piece. It makes audiences think about what would have happened if United 93 had hit its target on September 11 rather than crashing into a field in Pennsylavia because of the heroic acts of its passengers. It also gives an insight into the suffering of the people in the North and what drives them to act as they do.

What I loved about the movie was that it did not have a one dimensional plot. Just when one thinks that they have the entire thing figured out, the villains will reveal a new motive in which a new strategy is revealed. And the action will take off again. It did have a formulaic approach to the movie but it really worked out. Superb cast by the way. Their performances played off each other really well.

All in all, one man saving the world is still a long shot, but I thought Olympus has Fallen was great. Plus, with Morgan Freeman as acting head of state, how can one go wrong? Kudos to everybody involved in this film. A $70 million budget well spent. I had a lot of fun watching it but I’m afraid some of my hair may have turned gray in the two hours it took to finish the movie because of tension. That and a couple of my nails bitten to excess, but these were sacrifices well worth it.

Sunkyunkwan Scandal: Korean Drama Review

Sungkyunkwan_Scandal-posterAfter my family trip to Seoul, I found it hard to let go of the city that has been so good to me with the friendly people, the cool air, and the excellent shopping that when I got back, I wanted immediately to catch up on my Korean dramas. I still had a couple on my TBW pile and immediately, I zeroed in on the Sunkyungkwan Scandal starring Park Yoo chun and Park Min young. I wanted to see Yoo chun’s Rooftop Prince (which I believe was more popular but a friend spoiled the ending for me so I decided to go with Scandal) but as it turned out, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

Kim Yoon Hee (Park Min young) is a girl burdened by having to provide for her mother and ailing brother when her father passed away at an early age. In order to do so, she assumes her brother’s identity to work at the bookstore transcribing old books and making study guides for Sunkyungkwan university scholars, sons of noblemen who will soon take positions as government officials. But when their landlord, the Minister of War pressures the family to pay their debt worth 100 nyang or face eviction, Yoon Hee becomes desperate and she takes on the offer to become a substitute exam taker at Sunkyungkwan. A case of mistaken identity lands her face to face with Left Minister’s only son, the uptight, bookish and friendless Lee Soon Joon (Park Yoo Chun), who takes a special interest in her talents and forces her to take the exam and become a scholar herself.

I finished the entire series in a total of one day and two nights because I was just so engaged with this series. The story was pretty generic, girl disguises herself as a boy to get better opportunities, gets close to the lead guy, while another gets interested in her, forming a triangle of sorts in which the story revolves but despite the fact that this storyline has been used countless times in other dramas, it still worked out, mainly because it was set in the Joseon dynasty period in Korean history so this injected a different flavor to the execution.

Aside from being a love story, the drama touches on major political issues that people in ancient Korea had to deal with such as inequality, politics, discrimination – things that most people of today take for granted and it was blended so well that viewers get immersed in what is happening and they get invested in the characters and the outcome.

The drama was depicted in such a way that it also became a history lesson, a lesson in friendship and a lesson in family. A father’s love for his offspring, a teacher’s love for his students, a king’s love for his people, and the loyalty of good friends who will risk their lives to protect one another.

I loved the chemistry between Soon Joon and Yoon Shik/Yoon Hee. Park Yoo Chunwas awesome as the awkward and uptight nobleman who was overly optimistic and naïve to real world, and Min Young provided a perfect complementary character to his stiff and bookish Soon Joon, with the resilient, headstrong, smart and sassy Yoon Shik, who despite being disguised as a man, manages to capture Soon Joon’s heart. The two other characters who made up the Jalgeum Quartet, Geol Oh (Yoo Ah in)  was equal parts tough, sensitive and adorable, while the cunning charmer Gu Yong Ha (Song Joong Ki), kept things very interesting. He had this devilishly wicked smile that makes viewers wonder what he’s up to and this added levels to his character that one would not have expected from the beginning. I loved how their different personalities blended together, but my favorite moments were actually towards the beginning when Soon Joon and Geol Oh were both becoming confused about what they were feeling for their roommate, and how the truth was eventually revealed. The fighting about the sleeping positions were particularly hilarious. Even the main villains had their fair share of humanity towards the end, when everybody eventually stepped up their game to achieve the new Joseon that the king dreamed about.

I thoroughly enjoyed this drama. Towards the end, even when I wanted to find out how it was going to turn out, half of me wanted the drama to go on and on. The only regret that I have right now is that I didn’t watch it sooner. I have no doubt that I will be seeing it again, and again, and again in the near future.

Game Change: A Review

I was very intrigued by this movie when it was initially released because of all the controversy surrounding it, mainly Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s strong opposition to it. I read somewhere that Palin didn’t like how she was portrayed in the movie that gives viewers a peek behind in the scenes at the 2010 Republican campaign trail, and how the promising start crumbled to dust towards the finish line. I finally caught a rerun on cable and am now able to get my two cents in. The HBO movie was based on the book of the same name written by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.

The story focuses on the campaign of Senator John McCain (Ed Harris) in the 2010 US presidential elections and how his political strategists led by Steve Schmidt (Woddy Harrelson), sought for a way to counter the superstar campaign of now President Barrack Obama. In their search for a game changer, the team picks out the name of Governor Palin (Julianne Moore) from a roster of possible running mates for the Arizona senator. However, as the initial blush of the campaign wears off, the team realizes that it takes more than charisma to convince the people that Palin has what it takes to go to Washington, DC.

I actually don’t get why Sarah Palin was throwing a fit over the movie because I found it quite interesting. Sure, it showed her as an ill prepared candidate for the big leagues but she didn’t strike me as stupid, as what some people would think when they see her grasping at straws during interviews about policies. Actually, I was very sympathetic for her because she was not fully briefed about what she was getting into and had no time to brush up on the things that would make her a prime candidate. The fault laid mainly on the strategists because they didn’t look beyond the surface and haphazardly chose Sarah over other more qualified candidates who had less of a pull than the Alaskan governor. On the other hand, I do get what prompted them to choose Sarah. Still, I have to give credit to Steve’s character for his quick thinking and his devotion to Senator McCain. I actually wanted him to win in 2010 because of his strong platform and experience in steering America and the movie just strengthened my resolve and gave me a fresh perspective on the man and his principles.

I guess what’s great about the movie is that it presented the campaign as it was. The successes, the failures. This made people understand what motivated the key players of the campaign to do the things they did and act the way they did. The movie made them human in the eyes of the audiences. Also, the film does not cast judgement on the characters but rather provides audiences with the information to weigh in on the events for themselves, which is a rare opportunity.

I think that Game Change is a very compelling look at politics and the different facets of leadership that one has to develop before going to the White House. I believe that Game Change did not put Palin in a bad light but rather highlighted her different skills — she was an administrator who solely focused on the local issues, which was well and good for being governor, but this may not have worked in the national scale when more awareness about the world was needed. And that was completely okay had she not been roped into running for vice president. The movie just showed how she got drowned by her sudden rise to stardom and the subsequent analysis of her personal life that went with it. I think at the end of the day, it all boiled down to one bad call. One major bad call. Had the team had more time to work with Sarah and groom her, she would’ve been a complete game changer, but as it so happened, it all happened to quickly.

All in all, it was a great movie that got me hooked from the first minute. Great cast, and great attention to details. It totally got me interested in reading the actual book. Kudos to the main (and supporting) cast for their excellent portrayal and filmmaker Jay Roach and screenwriter Danny Strong for bringing the campaign to the screen. A total must watch.