Sunday, 28 June 2020

TV Review: NOS4A2 - "Good Father"

NOS4A2 returns this week with "Good Father" and it's all about Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto). In this episode, we learn Manx's origin story and why he chose to become the monster he is.

Celeste Arias and Zachary Quinto are Cassie and Charlie Manx | NOS4A2 Good Father | NOS4A2 season 2 episode 2

Depression-era America. We gain a glimpse into Manx's past, his marriage to Miss Cassie (Celeste Arias), and his likeness to Nosferatu. It appears Cassie may be a princess, if only in her father's eyes, and Manx is climbing the ranks from chauffeur to would-be royal interloper.

Cassie's father does not like Manx one bit. I do love characters who see straight through him.

"The only Manx I know is a breed of cat that has no tail and I can't say I care for that. What is your tale?" - Father Haber

Haber is not wrong about Manx. He's an incorrigible dreamer who thinks people can subsist on dreams, not food and milk. But that's the point, isn't it? In Christmasland, Charlie does indeed create an inscape where all of the kids let down by their parents can subsist on his creative brilliance alone.

We meet a decidedly less creepy Millie Manx (Mattea Conforti) in "Good Father", but oh, scrap that. It isn't long before we witness the creation of Christmasland and the birth of the monstrosity that is Millie Manx. With some insight into Millie's utter callousness, we have to wonder how wise Charlie is being in breaking promises to her. Never underestimate the original demon child.

"Good Father" is a fantastic episode and sets out what is really at stake for Charlie Manx. His encounter with Wayne McQueen (Jason David) is terrifying but I think (or desperately, feverishly hope) that Manx might have met his match in (Bruce) Wayne McQueen.

NOS4A2 returns next week with "The Night Road". You can catch NOS4A2 on AMC and BBC America (US) with new episodes added every Sunday and AMC UK (BT TV 332) from Thursday 2 July.


Saturday, 27 June 2020

Tahereh Mafi's Dystopian Thriller 'Shatter Me' - Review ★★★★☆

I only picked up Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me because I love, love, loved her novel A Very Large Expanse of Sea. I had a feeling that I wouldn't enjoy the Shatter Me series, reviews that I read described it as tropey dystopian, but I wanted to see how her writing had developed from the first Shatter Me novel to the masterpiece of young adult fiction that is A Very Large Expanse of Sea.

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book Review

The world of Shatter Me is very strange. Radioactive and crumbling, diseased and destroyed, birds no longer fly and the clouds are all wrong. Juliette has been locked up in isolation for almost a year, her mind fragmenting, when suddenly Adam appears and everything changes. Juliette can kill people with a single touch, what do people want to use her for?

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi | Superior Young Adult Fiction | Book ReviewExchanging one prison for another, Juliette encounters Warner, a privileged young man who basks in all the power of his father. Warner is one of the best-written antagonists I have ever read, his level of evil on par with Nazis and his moral vacancy chilling at times.

There are three main settings in Shatter Me and it's hard to divulge more without spoiling the plot. Nevertheless, despite my doubts on beginning this novel, there were glimpses of brilliance and I'll be reading the rest of the books in the Shatter Me series.

For an epic love story and unforgivable villain, I give Shatter Me an excellent four out of five stars and recommend to fans of Hunger Games and Divergent.



Sunday, 21 June 2020

TV Review: NOS4A2 - "Bad Mother" (Spoiler-free review)

Joy to the world! Christmas has come early and Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is finally back for a second season. Written by Jami O,Brien, "Bad Mother" begins 8 years after the events in "Gunbarrel" and sees Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) happily shacked up with Lou Carmody (Jonathan Langdon) at Carmody's Car Carma with her totes adorable kid Wayne (Jason David). Excellent news indeed, we did like Lou from the moment we met him.

Less good news is that Vic has inherited both the 'parent of the year' award from her parents and her dad's fascination with alcohol (hence, the episode title "Bad Mother"). On hearing the news that Charlie Manx is dead, she spirals with dizzying speed, pushing poor Lou away and terrifying Wayne in her attempt to protect him.

Mattea Conforti is Millie Manx | NOS4A2 Bad Mother | NOS4A2 season 2 episode 1

Speaking of terrifying, Mattea Conforti returns as Millie Manx and something is definitely up at Christmasland. Never one to shy away from threats and intimidation, she takes a break from her nasty games to serve up some menace to poor unravelling Vic. To be fair, grown up Vic is a pretty good match for the razor-toothed demon child from hell.

Bite the smallest
Eat him up
Bite the smallest
Drink his blood

I'll be honest, I love every minute Millie Manx is on screen for she is delightfully evil. I don't love Bing Partridge (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) who now appears more disgusting than ever with a pot belly and serial-killer spectacles. My happiest moments in NOS4A2 season 1 were those where I thought Bing was dead; I cannot believe I once thought him to be an honourable protector of children. Bing is on the prowl for the Wraith which is about to be turned into sunflower-fodder by a local artist. That explains Manx's enduring coma and subsequent death.

Ooh la la! In Haverhill, Massachusetts, we learn that purple-haired librarian Maggie Leigh (Jahkara Smith) and former-detective-now-FBI-agent Tabitha Hutter (Ashley Romans) are an item and Vic is very much a sensitive topic in their relationship.

As Vic struggles to cope with the massive toll of what Charlie Manx did to her, she drags everyone down into a world they'd sooner escape. With classic addict behaviour, she's going to need to descend to much greater depths before she's done destroying herself and everyone around her. This season is going to be very dark indeed, captured as ever with absolutely rich, colourful and dark cinematography. Welcome back NOS4A2!

Christmasland | NOS4A2 Bad Mother | NOS4A2 season 2 episode 1

You can catch NOS4A2 on AMC and BBC America (US) with new episodes added every Sunday from 21 June and AMC UK (BT TV 332) from Thursday 2 July.


Saturday, 20 June 2020

Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely's Harrowing 'All American Boys' ★★★★★

Three minutes from the end and I have to stop reading All American Boys. I have goosebumps on every part of my body and tears rolling down my cheeks.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

"Michael Brown"
"Absent again today"
"Tamir Rice"
"Absent again today"
"Eric Garner"
"Absent again today"

Written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, All American Boys is about Rashad Butler, an ROTC kid and talented artist who walks into a convenience store one evening. While there, a lady trips over him, causing Rashad to drop a bag of chips and suddenly a cop is beating Rashad over and over again.

"Rashad is absent again today"

Quinn Collins witnesses the attack. Well, he's not sure what to make of what he saw and he certainly can't tell anyone about it. He witnessed his best friend's older brother beating up one of his classmates.

As Rashad recovers in hospital and Quinn keeps his silence, a fire begins to burn in Springfield as the community divides over what really happened that night. There are those who believe the cop Paul Galluzzo when he insists Rashad was stealing and those who realise that this was a show of excessive force against a young, black teenager.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan KielyOver and over again, we're reminded that Rashad is absent from school again today and the reason for that was an unprovoked and violent attack by a white policeman.

All American Boys is a powerful, devastating novel that has never been more relevant than now, in the wake of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor's murders. The novel is told in alternating chapters by Rashad and Quinn and shows incredible character development and growth by both boys as they come to terms with the events of that night and begin to shape their own narrative, often finding themselves at odds with those around them.

If I had to offer a criticism, I'd say that in many ways, Paul Galluzzo's character is too absolute, his community closes around him with too much loyalty; nevertheless, while this might not stand up in normal works of fiction, the truth is that we witness this absolutism too often in cases of racist violence and police brutality. These are extremely polarising events as was portrayed in the novel.

I give All American Boys a superb five out of five stars and recommend to everyone seeking black and minority authors and stories, especially those inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.



Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Horror Film Review: The Ascent (2019) ★★★★★

I’ve realised that I have a type when it comes to horror films, mostly likely influenced by my days as a teenage goth: dark, moody and disturbing. It’s not often that I find that magical combination of atmosphere, creeping tension and unrelenting fear but Tom Paton’s The Ascent ticks all of those boxes. Starring Shayne Ward and Toby Osmond, The Ascent is scary as all hell with the tension ratcheted to the max and features that winning horror trifecta of fear, plot and great performances.

Julia Szamalek is The Prisoner in The Ascent (2019) aka Black Ops

The Ascent opens with a special ops team infiltrating a civil war in eastern Europe. The Hell’s Bastards are there to retrieve intel but they land up bringing something far more sinister back home with them. Back at HQ in the UK, they soon find themselves trapped in a never-ending stairwell. Their mission? Ascend or die. As their past sins come back to haunt them, the team realises they will have to right their wrongs if they want to survive.

The Ascent is a beautifully atmospheric film and reminded me of my most loved of all horror films, Open Grave. I have to admit, I was a little wary of the vague eastern European setting at first, worried that the film would trample all over the reality of war, real or fictional. The truth is that the film handled those scenes especially well, communicating the meaninglessness and horror of war with muted and desaturated cinematography. This is not a pretty war and the crimes and atrocities captured were approached with the necessary gravity.

Toby Osmond is Jack Ford in The Ascent (2019) aka Black Ops

The film features great performances from the entire cast, especially Sophie Austin as Emma Walker and Samantha Schnitzler as Kia Clarke. The Ascent dives deep into their past lives, their personalities and the choices that delivered them to this never-ending hell. It was great to watch their character development and especially pleasing to watch a certain reality star meet his fate twice, for even though I like him in real life, his character was particularly awful in this film.

Written and directed by Tom Paton on a tiny budget, The Ascent represents the best in independent horror and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved this film and Paton’s Pandorica even though I definitely didn’t love his other feature Redwood. Two out of three ain’t bad and I need to see Black Site and whatever Paton brings us next.

Sophie Austin, Alana Wallace and Phoebe Robinson-Galvin in The Ascent (2019) aka Black Ops

For delivering a cracking film on the horror of war and the embodiment of hell, I give The Ascent a superb five out of five stars and recommend to fans of atmospheric and moving independent horror.


Previously seen only at the Frightfest 2019, The Ascent is available on exclusive premiere on Birdbox.Film and will be available from 15 June on iTunes, Amazon, Sky Store, Sony, Xbox and Google Play. The Ascent was originally called Stairs and will be released as Black Ops in the US.


Saturday, 6 June 2020

Emily St. John Mandel's Incredible 'Station Eleven' ★★★★★

There could be no weirder time to read a book about a global pandemic that wipes out most of the world's population. When I began reading Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven on New Years Eve 2019, I was simply looking for an incredible, compelling book that would really move me. By the time I finished it 11 days later, our world had changed irrevocably.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel | Superior Fiction | Book Review

It took some time to understand that this was not an extinction-level event but I nevertheless had to pack away my feelings for Station Eleven until I was ready to deal with them again. Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction.

Station Eleven is one of the best books I've ever read. It took me much longer to read than it should have because I was so enamoured by the writing that I was trying my very best to drag it out.

Station Eleven begins at the end. Or you could say it is a beginning, the beginning of the end of civilisation. Within a matter of days, weeks at most, most of society succumbs to a deadly flu virus. Civilisation crumbles, planes are permanently grounded and technology as we know it comes to a halt.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel | Superior Fiction | Book ReviewIn this terrifying new landscape, St John Mandel weaves together the stories of a handful of interconnected individuals. Everyone knows where they were in those fateful days, turning points in human history, but in the world of Station Eleven, that has little bearing on who they become and how they end up.

It's rare that a book moves me to the extent that Station Eleven did but I can already predict that I will read it again, perhaps I'll listen to it on audiobook. Before the strange new world of COVID-19, there was meant to be an HBO mini-series of Station Eleven starring Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate). Sadly, I don't think there will be much appetite for that now, which is a real pity.

I give Station Eleven a superb five out of five stars and recommend to absolutely everyone. Believe the hype about this novel.



Saturday, 30 May 2020

Suzanne Collins's 'The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes' (Hunger Games #0) - Audiobook Review ★☆☆☆☆

I'm absolutely stunned by how bad Suzanne Collin's The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is: it's dire.

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins | Audiobook Review

For the most part, I loved the Hunger Games trilogy although I did hate the ending. I cautiously looked forward to the prequel because I thought that there was a lot to say about how Panem became the twisted society it was. Given how low my expectations were, I'm surprised at how sorely disappointed I am.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is about the evolution of Coriolanus Snow, how he falls in love with a tribute he is mentoring and how he chooses to become the disgusting excuse for a human being we see in the trilogy. Coriolanus as an 18-year-old is absolutely insufferable and I'm quite sure that this wasn't a story that needed to be told.

The romance with his tribute, Lucy, is vomit-inducing and at no stage does the author attempt to unpack the huge moral implications and the imbalance of power between a privileged, spoiled young man of the leading class and a disenfranchised young woman, effectively a slave, who has been stripped of her rights, treated like an animal and chosen to die.

I couldn't help comparing Lucy to June in the Hulu version of The Handmaid's Tale. June realises what little power she has but chooses to use and manipulate the Commander. She certainly doesn't fall in love with him.

Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins | Audiobook ReviewI'm an audiobook lover but to add insult to injury, I really disliked the narrator of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Santino Fontana's 'female' voices sounded like parody and his rendition of Lucy's songs fell completely flat. Perhaps, given the substantial dialogue of women in the book (especially Lucy), a female narrator should have been chosen?

Ultimately, I find myself wondering who authors are writing young adult novels for. A huge proportion of YA readers are adults, me included, but if you're not writing a book that has something relevant to say to actual young adults, what is the point? I felt the same way when I read Sara Zarr's Goodbye from Nowhere. In both novels, we have a pampered, narcissistic protagonist who basically preys on a woman who trusts him, yet somehow the whole story is about him?

I give The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes one out of five stars and would not recommend. I've just realised that this is my first one star review ever. It's that bad. Did this review need to be written? I very rarely take the time to write bad reviews but this is for the people who feel the same way as I do.


© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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