3 stars

REVIEW: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Best friends Charlie, Taylor and Jamie are heading to SupaCon! Charlie is a blogger and actress promoting her first film at SupaCon and it’s her chance to show the fans she’s completely over her breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When she meets super famous online personality Alyssa, Charlie begins to think her long-time crush isn’t as one sided as she thought. Taylor’s more reserved than Charlie. Her brain is wired differently making social situations often terrifying and a fear of change makes her constantly re-evaluate what she wants from her best guy friend Jamie. But when she enters a fan contest to meet her favourite author, Taylor begins to rethink her lifelong goal of always playing it safe.

Queens of Geek is a super quick read, I flew through it. It’s all set during one weekend at a fan convention called SupaCon so there are a lot of geeky references to comics, cosplay and fandom in general. It’s kind of a love letter to fandom, and how people can find safety and comfort in fandom and the TV shows/films/books that people can bond over. It’s a nice looking into the world of comic cons and how they can be very overwhelming but also be a place to meet likeminded people and make new friends.

The story is told in alternate perspectives, Taylor and Charlie’s. Taylor has anxiety and Asperger’s and it’s insightful hearing her explain how she feels in certain situations and about life in general. She’s almost constantly struggling but still loves her friends and her fandom. Taylor is bisexual and has had a past relationship with a boy and during her time at SupaCon gets to know Alyssa. Their romance is really sweet and they both talk about how their past relationships have affected them and what they’re looking for going forward.

The amount of communication between Taylor, Jamie, Charlie, and Alyssa (and all combinations of thereof) was extraordinary. Any misunderstandings are more likely to last a couple of paragraphs than a couple of chapters. It’s both great to see a solid group of friends or a potential love interest be so open about their thoughts, feelings and fears with one another, but also a bit disconcerting as it’s something that is (unfortunately) so unusual in fiction, and often in real life as well. So often one character gave an encouraging speech to another character that it felt unrealistic.

Queens of Geek is definitely a character driven book. There’s not really any plot twists or big moments, instead it highlights various important diverse topics like sexuality, mental health, body image and unhealthy relationships. All these topics are handled well but the story sometimes felt like it had been put on the backburner in order for a character to say their piece about a certain topic.

Queens of Geek is a cute, quick read with some great characters who really support one another. Jamie, Charlie and Taylor have a solid friendship and each of their personalities shines through. However, it’s not a memorable read for me as it felt like it was trying so often to tick as many important, diversity boxes as possible that it didn’t end up grounded in reality. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)

You can read my original review of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 from May 2017 here.

The Guardians are using their fame to make money, when Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) father Ego (Kurt Russell) arrives in their lives. The Guardians struggle to keep their newfound family together as they attempt to unravel the mystery of Peter’s father.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a bright, fast-paced adventure. The planets, characters and costumes are all vibrant and unique to where they are in the galaxy. This film really does show the scope of the universe these characters are travelling around in as you get a sense of distance between planets, and what it means to jump from one to another.

While there’s still a lot of jokes in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, though not all of them hit the mark, the actual story and insights into these characters is quite sad. This team of unlikely heroes are slowly becoming attached to one another, and so many of them are unsure of how to deal with that. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) pushes people away, constantly having to compete with Peter and antagonising everyone in order to get a reaction. While you knew that Drax’s (Dave Bautista) family had been killed from the first film, through Mantis (Pom Klementieff) you get to see past his stoic appearance and see the pain and sadness he’s constantly carrying around inside him.

There’s so many moments between various characters where as they’re shouting at one another, they reveal how they’re really feeling, and how they in fact care about or understand the other person. These moments give Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 layers as beneath all the colours, jokes and space battles, there’s these broken characters who are slowly becoming a family.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a lot of fun with great action sequences, but perhaps because the first film was such an unexpected delight the sequel doesn’t quite hit the same levels of greatness. 3/5.

REVIEW: Sky High (2005)

Son of superhero parents, the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is about to start Sky High – a school for kids with superpowers. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any yet and fitting into high school has never been tougher.

When Will and his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) don’t fit the typical superhero mould, they get relegated to sidekicks which are generally seen as the losers of the school. This is where you get your typical high school dynamic of the popular kids vs the unpopular kids, and you’re introduced Warren Peace (Steven Strait), the Bad Boy who has hidden depths. There’s a lot of fun scenes with characters using their different powers, whether that’s in fights or in training and seeing all the powers and technology like ray guns together can be entertaining.

Sky High blends a lot of typical high school movie clichés with superhero ones and they work well together to make a fun film. At some points it’s as if Sky High knows it’s almost a spoof of both the teen comedy genre and the superhero one. Characters wear clothes in colours that relate to their powers or to people they’re associated with, and there’s a great gag with the popular yet mean cheerleader squad.

Sky High’s not too different to the norm but it’s different enough with the elements it pulls from both genres and the entire cast looks like they’re having a lot of fun – Kurt Russell especially. Sky High is a fun-family film, it’s got comedy, drama and superhero shenanigans, definitely a fluffy easy-watch kind of film. 3/5.

REVIEW: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

When Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) becomes possessed by an ancient and powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must team up with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to protect her from the genocidal Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wants the Aether to throw the Nine Realms into darkness.

Thor: The Dark World finds Loki in prison for his crimes against Earth and his relationship with Thor is put to the test when he is the only one who can get them off Asgard undetected. Loki continues to be one of the most interesting and complex characters in the MCU. The one thing you can guarantee Loki to be is untrustworthy but the way that presents itself is still surprising.

While the Dark Elves do look aesthetically cool and somewhat intimidating, that doesn’t make them good or compelling villains. Malekith has no motivation besides turning the universe into darkness because that’s what he and his people thrive on, not matter the effects on different people. A lack of a decent villain makes this a typical end of the world type story. Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Malekith’s second in command, is reduced to a henchman and offers little opportunity for Akinnuoye-Agbaje to show how good an actor he is.

A nice call-back to the events in The Avengers is, like Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, the fact that Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is suffering from having a God in his head. This reminds us that while the main heroes and villains of this story are Gods and monsters, there are humans here that have very human reactions to the fantastical things they face.

Thor is almost second fiddle to most of the characters in Thor: The Dark World despite being the titular character. Loki proves to be the more interesting and funny brother while Jane Foster saves the day with science. Still, Thor is suitably heroic and the final battle between him and Malekith is both funny and thrilling, thanks to the laws of physics being turned onto their head.

Thor: The Dark World is a more serious film, it even has a darker palette and it definitely likes that mouldy green colour that’s almost ever-present. It still has sprinkles of humour throughout and some good action sequences but it’s an average outing for Thor. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Shape of Water (2017)

In a top-secret research facility in 1960s Baltimore, a lonely cleaner named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) befriends a mysterious amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who is being terrorised by government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).

The Shape of Water has a magical quality to it. The setting and particularly the music, gives it almost a golden age of Hollywood feel. Especially as the story is almost a classic story of love, friendship and good trying to triumph over evil. It’s almost like a fairy-tale and the way the film is bookended by some narration definitely adds to that feeling.

All the performances in The Shape of Water are great. Sally Hawkins does a brilliant job at conveying Elisa’s thoughts and feelings without ever saying a word. You believe in the connection she’s forming with this creature and seeing the two of the bond is lovely. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a menacing presence from the first moment he appears. Every time he’s on screen your eyes are on him as he’s like a coiled spring ready to explode at any moment.

The Shape of Water is a bit tonally uneven. At its centre is a sweet story but then there’s sudden bouts of blood and violence – most of which are courtesy of Strickland. It’s also got some surprising moments of humour, a good number of them were from Elisa’s neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) who’s friendship with Elisa is lovely.

The Shape of Water is one of those films where I appreciated it more than I liked it. While for many it is one of their favourite films of the year, for me it was a lovely film with a lot of heart, but I don’t think it will stick with me for very long. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.

REVIEW: Jane Got a Gun (2015)

When her husband Hammond (Noah Emmerich) ends up on the wrong side of John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his men, Jane (Natalie Portman) turns to her former fiancée Dan (Joel Edgerton) to help her defend her family and her home.

I always enjoy watching newer Westerns. It’s a genre that had its heyday between the 1930’s-1960’s and its archetypal characters and stories have in many ways, become the blueprint for a lot of modern western films. Jane Got a Gun puts a woman front and centre, showing both Jane’s trauma and strength as she fights for her loved ones.

Through a series of flashbacks throughout the film you learn more about Jane and her relationships with both Hammond and Dan and see how the three of them have ended up in the situation they’re in. these flashbacks add a lot to the characters but often it feels like it’s just filling time as Jane and Dan prepare for battle. When there is the battle, it’s like a home-invasion thriller. It’s tense and exciting, though it doesn’t show off all the groundwork Jane and Dan put in to its full potential.

Portman gives a dedicated performance, fully embodying the grief, fear and determination Jane has in the face of a much larger and stronger enemy than herself. It’s a pity then that Bishop feels more akin to a pantomime villain, twirling his moustache, than a fleshed-out antagonist.

Jane Got a Gun is a decent addition to the Western genre. It doesn’t really do anything new or ground-breaking, but Portman’s performance and the relationship between Jane and Jan offers a compelling heart to this otherwise typical genre film. 3/5.