Monday, 21 August 2017

Korean & Japanese Drama Fandom

Korean and Japanese drama's have been increasingly gaining popularity on this side of the pond, and I have to say I've become one of the throng of fans who can't get enough of them. They are sappy and ridiculous sometimes, but also just pure fun with heart pounding romances and bizarre premises that lead to many hilarious situations. Pick from modern day, fantasy, sci-fi or historical based series and they are addictive - so be aware!

As a hopeless romantic, they definitely fit the bill if your in the mood for some heart-fluttering romance.

My ultimate favourite series so far is Goblin, a fantasy based romance that follows a man cursed to live forever until his 'bride' pulls a magical sword that pierced him. For hundreds of years he has lived without making too many close connections to anyone, until that one special girl comes along and challenges his feelings. Mix in a hilarious bromance with a Grim Reaper - a character with his own mysterious past - an awesome soundtrack, cool visuals and lots of humor and you have a story that just wouldn't let me go. I cried, I laughed and I watched it a second time because it was just that good.

My very first foray into this realm of the K&J Drama fandom was with the J-Drama Last Cinderella. The main character is getting on in years and she feels like she'll never find romance, until a very young, good-looking and charming man comes into her life. But everything isn't what it seems and his secrets will challenge their relationship, not to mention her growing fondness for a co-worker making everything complicated. Emotional, funny and heart-warming - it won me over to a fandom I never thought I'd be into.

My most recent watch was Coffee Prince, a gender-swap romantic comedy, that never failed to entertain. From the main leads whose bizarre story of love that passes their gender roles, to the supporting cast which make it funny and heart-warming, it was a great watch and highly recommended one to add to your list.

Obviously there are many, many more to choose from and have varying degrees of likability, but I guarantee if you give them a try, you'll find something to your liking.
It is a lot of fun to see both the differences in culture and the things that are the same no matter where you live in the world when it comes to relationships and life.

I really recommend giving some K&J Dramas a chance. There are so many different ones to choose from, so it may take you some time to find your niche, but it will be worth it and if you thought Netflix was hard on your social life, then just wait until Drama Fever gets added to the list.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

D4VE Review

What do robots do after they wipe out humanity and the rest of the universe? They get menial office jobs, white picket fence houses and raise families....say what? This comedic sci if story follows D4VE, a robot who was once a war hero and now finds himself behind a desk and watching his mediocre life pass him by, and becoming mediocre himself in it. His hilarious journey from nothing back to a hero is fun, unique and has an odd way of reflecting our own lives in an eerie way. Quirky and yet poignant, D4VE is worth checking out.

This was another random pick that I knew very little about when I picked it up, it was on the recommendation of the author who I met at a convention. I'll take this chance to encourage you to take time at conventions to meet artists and authors, you never know what you might find.

I enjoyed this unique take on so many different things from robots taking over the world, to alien invasions to learning how to 'adult' in an unexciting world - a strange mix that works well and made for a lot of humor and some thoughtful moments too. The humor is definitely adult, so not for kids, but the mature spin on it gives it another unique element. It's not kiddish.

Although not fantastic, I still did enjoy it and would recommend it if you're looking for some unique sci fi.

The Swords of Glass Review

I really enjoy fantasy that has a good infusion of imagination in it. I know what you're thinking - isn't all fantasy imaginative? Well yes, all fantasy does have doses of imagination, but the trend of late it seems has been for much of the genre to also be grounded in something real and not too 'out there' when it comes to the fantastical elements of the story. Biggest example is Game of Thrones. I really like GOT and it has great storytelling and a VERY well realized world, but the fantasy aspects to the story are few and far between and sometimes very subtle. Magic is making its way back into the world, but for a long time it was the stuff of stories, even in Westeros. Most of the elements are also things very much based in our own worlds' myths and legends. This type of fantasy has its place and can be great in its own right. What I truly appreciate and love though, is when fantasy just goes overboard with the crazy. Creatures that have no relation to anything in our world, completely made up, larger than life landscapes and magic systems. I love when fantasy 'lets go' of the realistic and just creates.

When I came across The Swords of Glass in a comic book store, I was immediately drawn to the cover. A young girl carrying a crazy looking sword and surrounded by the most bizarre creatures was definitely up there in the creative fantasy department. I knew nothing about the comic and totally bought it on a whim - a case of judging something by its cover alone - something they say never to do, but which has led me to some pretty amazing stories over the years.

The comic is in fact written by a French author and drawn by an Italian illustrator and has been translated for English audiences. I'll admit that something has probably gotten lost in the translation, as some of the dialogue was a bit stilted at times and the characters were not great, however, don't let that turn you off. The Swords of Glass was a fantastic fantasy with gorgeous artwork, an amazing world filled with bizarre creatures, vast cities and landscapes and a journey well worth taking.

I don't want to spoil too much, as half the journey is discovering this world and its people and places. Mostly it follows a young girl who grows into a young women bent on revenge for her family who ends up getting caught up in something much larger with world-ending implications. Okay, now that brief description makes it sound like every other fantasy out there, but hear me out on this one. It really is worth a read. The artwork alone should be enough to convince you - it is beautiful, detailed and utterly of the fantastic. The artist states Moebius as an influence and that is easy to see in her work. It is utterly fantastical and you'll want to re-read it a second time just to savor the art.

Needless to say I really, really enjoyed this comic and appreciated the imagination that went into creating its fantastical world, creatures and characters. Although not perfect by any means, it still instilled that sense of wonder I look for in fantasy and enjoy reveling in when a story (and/or artwork) are able to do that for me.

I really recommend it!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets Review

I was super excited to see this movie. The Fifth Element, bizarre as it is, remains one of my favourite movies and I was looking forward to another unique Luc Besson space movie. I tend to like quirky sci-fi over the big epic sagas (although I still like those too), and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets sure looked to be quirky AND epic. The first trailers showcased a visual feast that other movies only seem to do in snippets and which Valerian, I hoped would wear like a cloak.

First lets get out of the way that I have not read the original comic on which this movie is based, so I am reviewing this strictly based on a movie-only basis. So did it live up to my expectations? Visually, story-wise and world-building-wise it definitely did, BUT where Valerian falls short, is in its lead actors. They weren't terrible, but they just didn't seem to fit. Their banter and their 'romance' felt really forced and that's unfortunate, because I feel otherwise the movie was really fun, and well-done.

Miscast is a term often thrown around, and I don't use it very often, because I'm pretty forgiving when it comes to movies, but in this case I really think it is warranted. I was expecting, or maybe even wanted, something akin to a Han Solo and Leia relationship....the attraction is palpable, but strong personalities rub against each other and create a funny engaging relationship that is a joy to watch outside of everything else going on in the movie. That just isn't the case with Valerian and Laureline. When they weren't together on screen, they were actually much better than when they were together. Unfortunate, since the entire theme of the movie really should have their relationship at the center and because that doesn't work so well, then the message kind of gets lost.

Although the leads do fall short, I still did enjoy the movie. The visuals are STUNNING and the world-building was a joy to get lost in. From the strange creatures and aliens, to the technology, and the planets, everything was fully realized and a feast for the eyes. Obvious parallels to recent movies could be made, however, considering this is based off of a comic that was released in the 1960's, that point seems moot, since more recent movies likely borrowed from the comic rather than vice versa.

The story itself was also a lot of fun. Again, there are obvious parallels to other sci-fi films of late, but it still manages to tell an engaging and entertaining narrative of its own. The 'message' might be a bit fluffy, but I'm okay with that, not everything needs to have 'deep meaning' to be enjoyable. The story is also fast-paced and quickly takes you from place to place and action to action in a succinct way that never feels too rushed, but also doesn't leave long boring moments in between.

Overall I did enjoy the film, but what kept it from being really great, was the two leads. It will still likely end up in my collection at the end of the day for those times I'm looking for a fun, not too serious sci-fi film to pass the time. It was a good try by Luc Besson, but doesn't quite hit the mark that his previous film The Fifth Element did. Go see it if you're not too picky a movie watcher and can look past its faults and see the decent, fun summer movie underneath that.

Maybe it will even encourage you, like it did me to check out both the original comic - currently being re-released - and the anime based off the comic. Both of which I have heard excellent things about.

Okja Movie Review

Okja is a Netflix movie that has garnered a lot of attention online after its release at the end of June. I recently sat down to see what all the fuss was about. After watching it, I have so many thoughts, I'm not sure where to start. The film is an odd mix of things that somehow, oddly manages to still become a cohesive movie in the end that isn't exactly enjoyable, but is an interesting journey that I still think is worth taking.

It is at times very wacky, heavy-handed in its message and switches between being a coming-of-age story about a girl and her GMO pig, an action film and a morality story on the evils of corporations and humans ill treatment of animals. There are times when it is stylized, with over-the-top caricature-style characters and even wanders into artsy territory, only to pull you out of that into an action sequence and car chase and then to a pastoral-type feel in the mountains of Korea. The tone is certainly all over the place, and I'm still not sure I'm a fan of that aspect.

Having said that, I give kudos to Netflix for being different, for being daring and for putting out a film that doesn't conform to every other cookie cutter Hollywood movie out there. Netflix is a platform that allows filmmakers to be creative and experimental and this is exactly what Okja feels like. It's a film that would not have flown in theaters, but on Netflix it can find a home and audience willing to give an odd movie about a genetically modified pig and a girl versus an evil corporation - for adults - a home. Ya, this one is NOT for the kids by the way. This isn't a Free Willy-like family movie, it is a visceral, often uncomfortable look at our insatiable need for food and the animals that suffer for it. Swearing and violence abound.

Okja deals with difficult subject matter, which is why I made the statement earlier that the movie is not exactly 'enjoyable'. There is very little that is fluffy and happy about the film. It is a very distressing and harsh look at the treatment of animals in the food industry and has a very clear cut stance against it, wrapped in a fictional wrapping that somehow makes it even more unnerving. Even if you're a meat eater, you'll have a hard time not feeling something during this movie. No matter what your own stance on the issue, Okja definitely will make you think on it, and I believe that is its overall strength. It isn't a perfect movie, it is strange at times and tonally all over the place, but at its heart it is dealing with an issue and even if it for a moment makes you think about it in your real, everyday life, then I think it has achieved something.

I didn't love Okja as a movie, but unlike other films I've seen lately, it really made me think outside of just the two hour movie and stuck with me long after it finished. It touched a nerve, it tried something different and I don't count that as a bad thing. I really hope that with the apparent success of Okja, that Netflix will continue to take risks and allow filmmakers to experiment and make movies that try something different.

Last thoughts - Okja is a difficult film to really rate. I believe it is worth watching if you have the stomach for it, as it's not an easy or fluffy watch. It may be a fiction story, but it has something to say and the message is something definitely worth our attention, which is what some of the best fictional stories are about.

The Crown Series Review

I recently binge watched The Crown on Netflix. I had heard great things and had been meaning to get around to watching it, but you know - life. Now, however, I am finally in the know about this excellent series. I admit to having a soft spot for stories about the monarchy. I was one of those crazy people who stayed up to the wee morning hours to watch Prince William and Kate's wedding live and was more than excited to see many of the amazing sites in London connected to the monarchy when I visited back in 2005.

The Crown follows current Queen Elizabeth II, from the moment she finds out she'll be the next Queen and through all the subsequent things she faces as a new monarch. With a very clear conviction of what a British monarch should be, she struggles to uphold that thousand year tradition and all its expectations, while also being a sister, a wife and a mother. Literally her family life is upended when she ascends to the throne and she often chooses duty over anything else, including her family.

I don't know how much of the show is conjecture and how much is actual fact. The monarchy is infamous for holding a public front and rarely allowing the public to see behind the curtain. So, I'm not sure how accurate the personal lives of these people portrayed is, but the show-runners sure do a good job of using the historically accurate parts we do know, with the personal struggles of all involved and meshing them together in a show that is both entertaining, thoughtful and respectful.

I enjoyed the fact that the show doesn't glamorize the story. It isn't flashy and the emotional points made are poignant more so for their lack of over the top elements than they would be with them. I was often struck by how many moments had little to no music and just allowed the acting and the moment to drive the story and the emotion. Speaking of which, the acting is spot on, and the whole show is very well cast. Not only do the actors look the part, they embody it. Claire Foy, Matt Smith and John Lithgow stand out in their roles as the Queen, her husband and Winston Churchill respectively. All of them have managed to give a performance the embodies what we know of these people with a human side that brings them down to earth and makes them living, breathing human beings with foibles and admiring qualities like everyone else.

I found it fascinating to think about all the things that go on 'behind the scenes' so to say, to some of the most prominent events in the history of the British monarchy during the last century. It is easy to see them as caricatures in a history lesson, but The Crown manages to give that history lesson a breath of living air, and a context that is rarely explored.

The Crown is a solid series that is well worth checking out. It has great acting, is beautifully filmed and really breathes life into recent historical events.
It certainly lives up to the good things I've heard about it and I look forward to seeing it continue in the future.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Rat Queens Volume 1

I've heard a lot about the comic series Rat Queens in my travels across the pop culture fandom and they seemed to be highly positive most of the time. Labeled as a D&D like story with kick-ass ladies and no filter for swearing, sex and violence, I admit I was intrigued, although somewhat apprehensive. To clarify, I have a confession to make - I am not actually a huge fan of fighting main character women. I know what you're thinking - WHAT! Why not? Well, bear with my on this one. I can admire women who are physically fit and who can hold their own physically, but I'm not one of those women. I have never been someone who enjoys extreme physical activities. Don't get me wrong, I like walking or hiking (not mountain climbing), snowshoeing, yoga and Zumba among other more low key activities. I am not, however, competitive in any part of my being. I am much more passive by nature. I tend to feel more relatable to women who are like me. Women who get by more by wits than by hits so to say. Again, not to say I can't admire the other side of the coin, but I tend to lean toward characters I can relate to more than ones I don't - which is something I think you could agree with right?

Now after that long, off topic explanation, and back to Rat Queens, my apprehension came in the form of not being sure whether I would relate to these ladies and if the over-the-top swearing, sex and violence would just feel all showy and that the story would not have any heart or, in fact, a story at all.

So needless to say, I've put off reading Rat Queens, until just recently when I picked up a single volume of a more recent story-arc at a convention I was at and read it and was actually pleasantly surprised. So I decided to start at the beginning and give this series a try.

First thing going for it for me was that its fantasy. That always is a point right there, and although the D&D type fantasy gets a lot of flack these days, I still enjoy a good old story about elves, halflings, dwarves and wizards once in a while. Rat Queens is unabashedly in this category and wears in on its sleeve with pride and makes no apologies for it either. I also rather enjoyed the main characters. They are rough around the edges, but also manage to show comradery and heart in between all that showy stuff. They fight for themselves and for each other, support each other, while also calling each other out on occasion. The artwork is bright and engaging and the world-building in the art is a fun representation of a typical medieval fantasy story.

There is nothing 'deep' in Rat Queens, but that's okay. It is a fun adventure, featuring likable female characters and a world you can easily get lost in.
This first volume was enjoyable and intrigued me enough to continue to read the series, so I look forward to more adventures with the Rat Queen ladies.

I'm not sure this will become one of my favourites, but it is enjoyable enough to recommend it.

Jackaby Series

Are you looking for a summer read that is light, fun, adventurous & magical?

Look no further than the Jackaby series by William Ritter. Now to be fair, I have only read the first two of three books that have been published so far (a fourth is on the way), but I have enjoyed them so much, that I really wanted to write about them and let people know about this fun book series.

The story follows Abigail Rook as her dream to become an archeologist ends in a disappointing manner and rather than face her parents and go back home, opts to come to America instead - New England in the late 1800's to be specific. When she lands, she knows she needs to get a job to support herself and finds an unexpected position alongside Jackaby, an eccentric young man who investigates the supernatural and fantastic goings on.

So begins an adventure that will have you turning pages and staying up late to find out the end. The mix of magical, supernatural and mystery is always a fun one, and this series continues that in its own way that I found very enjoyable. Whether it was the setting of the nineteenth century, a likable and admirable female lead or the overall mystery, the story never failed to entertain.

The series is YA and geared toward that audience, but don't let that deter you. The series doesn't have swearing or sex and is shorter, but that doesn't mean it's not good.

This 'urban fantasy' may not do anything extraordinary with the genre, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable read anyway. I loved the characters! The main female character, Abigail Rook, was a joy compared to much in the YA landscape and Jackaby himself was nicely eccentric, but still very likeable. The supernatural detective thing has been done a lot, but I found this one still managed to be exciting and a page turner, even if it's using a lot of the tropes of the genre. The late 1800's does make a refreshing backdrop and gives it a much more 'Sherlock' feel than many of the modern urban fantasy detectives out there.

Also, there is a bit of romance, but it doesn't overshadow the story and is very slight - for those of you tired of that sort of thing.

I would highly recommend checking out this series. It maybe isn't great, but it is really, really good and a lot of fun and sometimes that is all you need.