Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Review: Daisy Miller

Daisy MillerDaisy Miller by Henry James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I definitely enjoyed the first act of this story better than the second when Daisy Miller travels to Rome. This novella, which came attached to A Turn of the Screw, I have no idea why, is a much simpler tale than the aforementioned Turn. It's also a lot less interesting. In summary, it's pretty much a tale of an American flirt who either doesn't see or doesn't care about how society views her. In a sense, it's about her innocence being questioned, which is interesting to a point, but grows tiresome as the story wears on. Honestly, I don't know what I expected by the ending, but it's unfulfilling to say the least. Still, I'm glad I read it.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Three Solid Reasons Why The Hobbit Trilogy is Worse Than the Star Wars Prequels

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Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nothing can be worse than the Star Wars prequels, right? Wrong! I genuinely believe that the Lord of the Rings prequels are actually WORSE than the Star Wars prequels and I have three solid reasons why. Read:

1. The Star Wars Prequels Look and Feel Entirely Different from the Original Star Wars Trilogy, while the Hobbit movies look exactly like The Lord of the Rings

Here's probably my biggest complaint about the Hobbit movies. They look just like the movies we loved not too long ago, but the dip in quality is so severe that you kind of wonder if you really should have liked The Lord of the Rings in the first place. So, yeah, it makes you question whether the original trilogy was even actually good or if it was garbage. But no, it wasn't garbage, and yes, it's just as strong as you remember it. It's just these Hobbit movies, with their turgid pacing and overlong battle sequences, suck the big one. On the other hand, the Star Wars prequels look so different and so terrible, that there's no mistaking them for the cinematic abortions that they truly are. So fans of the original trilogy can point to the screen and say, "See this? THIS is good? This over here, bad. Original trilogy, good. New trilogy, bad." It's not so clear cut with these abysmal Hobbit movies since they look so much like what came before them.
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2. The character arc, believe it or not, is actually better in the Star Wars prequels than it is in The Hobbit trilogy.

Okay, I know, I know, George Lucas meddling with the original trilogy and sticking in corny additions, like the picture above, are inexcusable. That in itself may make the Star Wars prequels worse than The Hobbit movies. But I offer you this--At least the Star Wars prequels follow one character's story arc in Hayden Christensen's Anaken Skywalker. I mean, it might be clumsily put together, and the transition from kid to Hayden Christensen from Episode I to II is beyond jarring, but even so, his story evolves and by the end of it, he becomes Darth Vader. The story makes sense. But these Hobbit movies, oh, man. Where do I begin? For a movie actually called The Hobbit, he sure plays a very tiny role in the story. Another huge gripe I've had with these bloated, CG monstrosities is that the title character, Bilbo Baggins, feels like a background character. Instead of us truly going on an adventure with him, you know, there and back again, we're instead thrown a whole bunch of other stories--side quests, if you will--that detract from the main story. If it isn't the dwarves, it's the dragon. If it isn't the dragon, it's the man who's going to slay the dragon. If it's not him, it's the elf/dwarf relationship. If it's not that, it's the Legolas/elf who loves the dwarf relationship. In the end, the story of Bilbo Baggins gets lost and you're wondering what the hell happened amidst all those extremely long battle sequences. At least Revenge of the Sith has a semi-satisfying conclusion. "Nooooooo," and all.

3. You can feel that George Lucas actually tried to make a good trilogy. Peter Jackson was just in it for the money.

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And finally, the biggest insult is the fact that you can tell by every overlong CG fight scene, or segment where Legolas is talking, that Peter Jackson was just in it for the money. The movie, initially, was supposed to be split into two, which, I'm sorry, is pretty ridiculous given the source material. But after it was turned into three pictures, you could tell that a majority of each film's run-time was just padding, filler. Peter Jackson was bowing to the pressure of New Line cinema and making his project a bloated mess. And while the Star Wars prequels, especially Attack of the Clones, feel obscenely long, at least you can tell by every corny joke and lightsaber battle, that George Lucas poured his heart into that garbage. It may have been terrible, but the heart was still there. Even a heart in the right place is better than a heart clogged with dollar signs.

But what do you think? Do you think I'm just talking out my ass and that my arguments are invalid? Leave comments below. I'd love to hear what you think.

Review: The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the ScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, now, after reading Henry James in college and being absolutely flummoxed and bewildered by what I was reading, I decided that maybe I wasn't ready for Henry James at the time. Maybe I wasn't mature enough. Well, after reading The Turn of the Screw, which may be his masterpiece, I have decided that I was right. This fiction is rich stuff! (No pun intended).

The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story. Or maybe it isn't, which is why I ended up enjoying this novella. Unlike other old tales, where the hidden connotations are so mired in history that you have to study the time period to truly grasp its deeper meanings, The Turn of the Screw is timeless enough that issues like child molesters and psychosis can be read into the narrative as being possibilities. It definitely holds up, and I definitely caught its gist.

The only reason this novella isn't getting five stars from me is because of Henry James' narrative approach. Sometimes, he would use pages upon pages to describe an emotion or feeling that could have been cut down to a single paragraph. So that much I still remember hating about Henry James. But otherwise, this is a masterful story written by a master writer. A stellar achievement.

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Top Ten Best Movies I Saw In 2014

Since I didn't get to see either Selma or Whiplash this year and probably won't get to see them until January (Damn you, nearby indie house. You have failed me), I can't include them on this list. But I did get to see scads (I like that word. Scads) of great films this year, and here are the best ones. To see the worst movies I've seen all year, click here.

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10. Guardians of the Galaxy

It MUST have been a good year for cinema if this stud of a picture makes it in at number 10. Arguably one of the greatest (If not THE greatest, depending on who you talk to) Marvel movie of all time, this ragtag group of intergalactic losers who become heroes is the feel good movie of the year. It also represents a watershed moment for Marvel/Disney who took these mostly unknown characters (Definitely D-List in regards to Marvel standards) and made them the biggest stars of the year. So, basically, Marvel could turn Squirrel Girl into a blockbuster success if they wanted to. Now, if only they would ever consider doing it for Moon Knight. I refuse to lose faith!

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9. Edge of Tomorrow

Live. Die. Repeat, er, I mean Edge of Tomorrow is the best movie you didn't see this year. Exciting, funny, and a genuinely great star turn for Tom Cruise, Edge of Tomorrow, had a silly premise that actually ended up working. I think it's mostly because it played against expectations, which may have been to its detriment when trying to get it out there to the general public. But the trailers made it seem like it was going to be some big, gimmicky, rah-rah, sis-boom-bah action movie with a Groundhog's Day twist, when it was actually much more than that, mostly because it never took itself seriously. It's a pity, really, since you'll never truly see that grand battle on the beach in the same way on a small screen. You really had to see it in the theater.

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8. How To Train Your Dragon 2

When I initially saw How To Train Your Dragon 2, I pretty much went ape shit over it, calling it the best animated movie I'd ever seen in my entire life. Well, turns out those claims were a little premature. That's not to say that HTTYD2 isn't phenomenal, because it is. It's pretty much The Empire Strikes Back of sequels. But it's not the greatest animated picture I've ever seen. That would still be Spirited Away. But there are still so many great things to say about this sequel, which is far superior to the original. The story is much better, the characters are more likeable, and the stakes are constantly raised throughout. It's pretty much everything I love about movies, and so much more. It's almost perfect. One of the very best films of the year.

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7. The Boxtrolls

While I did go ga-ga over How To Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls is the better, uh, animated picture (Though, it's not really animated. It's stop motion) this year. Highly underappreciated, The Boxtrolls was the right kind of weird and dark for me. The story was absolutely ridiculous, but it still worked, and Laika has now become my new favorite company (Yes, even more than Pixar) when it comes to "kids" movies. If you love The Nightmare Before Christmas and other bizarre tales, then you'll ADORE The Boxtrolls. Definitely pick it up when it comes out on tape (On tape. Listen to me, dating myself).

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6. The Imitation Game

I actually just saw this yesterday, so it still has a big impact on me, but The Imitation Game was spectacular Oscar bait that truly delivered. Telling the true story (Though, my conspiracy theory loving dad doesn't believe a lick of it) of Alan Turing and how he cracked the Germans' Enigma Code, Benedict Cumberbatch proves himself to be a staggeringly good actor in this fascinating story, which is more plot driven narrative than biopic. I much preferred this to The Theory of Everything, which I actually find strange parallels to when it comes to telling their stories. Maybe it's the backdrop of WWII that does it for me, as I'm a sucker for that time period. Or maybe it's the internal struggle that Cumberbatch goes through with Turing as a gay male. Whatever the reason, I loved this picture and thought the pacing was fantastic. See it. It's playing in most theaters right now.

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5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starting the summer off one month early, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, may very well be the greatest Marvel movie ever made. Yes, even better than The Avengers. I constantly go back and forth on that decision. What made Cap Am 2 so great was that it raised the stakes so much, that even while watching it and knowing the story of The Winter Soldier, and knowing that Cap Am was set to appear in the next Avengers movie, I still wasn't certain he was going to make it out alive by the end. The action scenes were that intense. I also loved the slower, spy-thriller vibe of the film. Robert Redford added the kind of gravitas that's starting to make these Marvel movies seem less like comic book pictures, and more like just regular movies. They definitely raised the bar with this one. When it comes to comic book pictures, I may even like it more than The Dark Knight, which is no small claim. I adore this film.

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4. Boyhood

Is Boyhood impressive for filming the same cast for 12 years? Well, yeah, of course. Richard Linklater should definitely win Best Director for his insane commitment to this project and actually pulling it off. But outside of that massive stunt, Boyhood is still a spectacular film. One that, while not truly a great representation of the experience of growing up for all boys, is still one that is relatable and fascinating. And for such a long movie, I was surprised that I was engrossed the entire way through. Watching the actor grow up was an experience that can't be matched by merely changing the actor or applying make-up to a character. You feel the growth and change. Boyhood tells a simple story in a grand, sweeping way, and for that, I applaud it.

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3. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

A lot of people scoffed and made fun of my taste when I proclaimed that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a masterpiece, but I don't care. I still stand behind that decision. DotPotA is not only the best Planet of the Apes movie ever, it's also one of the greatest sci-fi movies ever in modern times. There's nothing else like it. Where else will you find a silly story about apes, that's turned into a modern day recreation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar? Not only that, but the battle scenes were so good. I only have four words for you: Ape riding a horse. Okay, wait. Scrap that. Let's make it eight: Ape riding a horse WITH A MACHINE GUN! I mean, you can't get any better than that. And dammit, Academy, when are you going to recognize motion capture as acting? Andy Serkis, as Caesar, deserves your love. How good was he? The answer: Too good. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was better than Boyhood. Yeah, I said it, and I'm sticking to it. It was.

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2. Nightcrawler

It's rare that a movie that has so much to say can also be this enthralling, but Nightcrawler pulls it off with aplomb, and Jake Gyllenhaal, and first time director, Dan Gilroy, are to thank for it. Telling a story of what the news has become, what we have become by watching the news, and, oh, for good measure, an introspective look at a sociopath, Nightcrawler moves at a staggering pace that's sometimes hard to keep up with. So much happens that it's over before you know it. But, given all that, it still resonates and manages to entertain in a fantastic three act structure. It raises the question, who's worse? The media, or us for buying into it and salivating over all the blood and gore they bring us night after night? There is no real answer by the end of this movie. You'll just have to come up with one yourself. Spoiler alert: You might not be happy with what you find.

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1. Birdman

Birdman is not only the best film I've seen all year. It's also the best film I've seen since There Will Be Blood. It's a modern day masterpiece and one of the greatest American movies ever made. I mean, God, I feel I could watch it a hundred times and find something new to admire about it every time. What's not to love? Telling a story about madness (Or magical realism depending on how you look at that ending), depression, rebirth, and about a million other things, Birdman is not only an enjoyable film, but like Nightcrawler, it also has a lot to say. And while it may not tackle "important" matters like Nightcralwer does, it definitely tackles issues in regards to the theater, actors, superhero films, critics, and even our sick compulsion to want more out of actors than them just putting on a show. All the while, it has probably the greatest, most skittering soundtracks in recent memory, which totally vibes with the scattered mind of its protagonist, who may or may not be suffering a mental breakdown. Oh, and did I mention that it all feels like one massive single shot? Boyhood will likely win best picture for 2014 since it's the safer choice. But I predict that Birdman will be the movie that people look back upon and say, "Man, that really should have won." It's the Taxi Driver/Goodfellas/Pulp Fiction/Apocalypse Now/Citizen Kane of this generation. It's a movie that's so brilliant, that it's too brilliant. And that's why it's my favorite movie of the year and likely won't win. Oh, well. At least I appreciate it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review: Arrowsmith

ArrowsmithArrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being the fourth book I've read of Sinclair Lewis' (The other three being his other major works-Main Street, Babbitt, and Elmer Gantry), I was pretty much set to be blown away by this novel since it's widely considered to be his best and his most read. But honestly, it is my least favorite of his books so far. It's mostly because of the title character himself, Martin Arrowsmith, who is most certainly the least comical protagonist I've read thus far from Lewis. In that way, a great deal of the satire is lost since his central figure is not a buffoon or harboring outrageous delusions of grandeur. Instead, in many ways (Except for the ending), Arrowsmith is a truly admirable character, striving to adhere to his beliefs and not to be corrupted. In every way, he's not the kind of character I would expect out of Sinclair Lewis, which, in this instance, is a bad thing. I barely laughed at all while reading it.

That's not to say that Lewis is only good when he's providing that biting, acerbic wit when it comes to casting characters. But being that this is less a character study, and more an actual story, it kind of threw me off. In the end, I wasn't entirely impressed. Given all the science involved, I'm sure this was a very important and relevant novel at the time, but today, it doesn't really seem all that impressive. This is always usually the case when something new and fresh is invented. So many others make it their own over the years that it begins to feel tired and unoriginal, even though it's actually the genuine article. For that reason, I find Arrowsmith a bit blah. It's most certainly a well-written novel, but it wasn't what I expected, nor was I pleasantly surprised. In the end, it's just "Meh" for me.

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The Top Five Worst Movies I Saw in 2014

Being that I still haven't seen The Imitation Game, Selma, A Most Violent Year, and Whiplash yet, I'm hesitant to write a list of the best movies I've seen in 2014. So I decided to write about the worst ones instead. Thankfully, 2014 didn't produce a lot of stinkers. And the ones it did, I mostly skipped (I'm looking at you Transformers 4). So here's a list of the absolute worst dreck I had to sit through this year. You probably saw all of them and liked them. That's where our taste differs, you see.

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5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I'm just as surprised as you are that this isn't even higher (Or is that lower?) on the list, but the recent TMNT movie was more mediocre than anything else. It was certainly better than any of those God-awful Transformers movies. What saved it from being a total disaster was all the turtle fight scenes, which were actually quite spectacular...and also incredibly short. The major problem was that this was less a movie about the turtles and more a showcase for Megan Fox's poor acting abilities, as she was the main star. Not the heroes in a half shell (Turtle power!). The Shredder was awful, Master Splinter was a joke, and (spoiler alert) April 'O Neil saves the day. But other than that, it was fine. It could have been a whole lot worse.

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4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2

I genuinely enjoyed the first Amazing Spider-Man movie and actually consider it the best Spider-Man movie ever. So it's heart-breaking that its sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is the absolute WORST Spider-Man movie of all time. I mean, even worse than emo Peter Parker/skinny Venom, Spider-Man 3 by Sam Raimi. It was seriously that bad, and for a number of reasons. One, it was so cheesy. Jamie Fox as Electro was ghastly, as it was neither funny nor interesting. Two, Green Goblin and The Rhino felt unnecessary to the point that I didn't even know what they were doing movie besides setting up the next one, which is never a good thing. Three, it was way too long. There were so many storylines going on that it became maddening trying to force myself to care about any of them. In the end, none of them worked. There are a slew of other reasons it was horrendous, but those are the three that stick out to me the most. I have now grown tired of the character, and Spider-Man was my hero as a kid. Sony, what have you done?

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3. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Oh, my God. Thank God this trilogy (I still can't believe they had the audacity to turn one book into a trilogy of movies), is finally over. Here's a pretty accurate analogy. Star Wars Episodes 4, 5, 6 : Star Wars Episodes 1, 2, 3 :: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy : The Hobbit Trilogy. I'm dead serious. I actually think these Hobbit movies are even worse than the Star Wars prequels, as at least you can tell George Lucas had his heart in the right place when he tried (and failed) with the prequels. But you can tell Peter Jackson truly didn't give a shit when he cobbled together scene after scene of CG creatures fighting other CG creatures, again, and again, and again. How are you going to have a movie about the Hobbit, and then put the title character in the background to the extent that you forget he's even in the movie? By trying to appeal to the diehard Tolkein fans, he alienated everybody else who just wanted a fun, whimsical picture. Kind of like, I don't know, THE BOOK! Anyway, moving on...

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2. Interstellar

What a clumsy and stupid movie. I know Interstellar has its fans, but honestly, I can't find a single noteworthy aspect of merit for this picture. From beginning to end, it was a complete bomb. With its treacly lame theme of love transcending space and time, to its dull as dirt characters, to Matt M's deplorable acting, this movie truly calls Christopher Nolan's directing and writing skills into question. And if that wasn't enough, the actual space exploration was yawn-inducing. Because of Nolan's now grating tendency to make everything as stark and bleak (and, uh, realistic) as possible, the planets ended up being drab wastelands that were neither entertaining or awe-inspiring. As a whole, the whole production left me feeling adrift in my seat, but not in aa good way. I kept thinking back to how much I enjoyed Gravity and wishing I was watching that movie instead. One of the biggest stinkers of the year. What garbage. What tripe.

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1. Godzilla

Not only was Godzilla the worst movie I saw all year. It was also one of the worst movies I've ever seen in my entire life. Where do I begin? Well, for starters, it was an absolute slap in the face to the King of All Monsters. Being a massive Godzilla fan, I can't stress enough how much I hate the fact that Godzilla only fought for a few minutes, and when he did, he spent half that time getting his ass kicked (The scene where he and that kid who played Kick-Ass fell simulataneously made me groan so loudly that multiple patrons turned to look at me). Another thing I hated was how Bryan Cranston was used. Spoiler alert, they KILL off Heisenburg within the first hour of the movie. WHY THE HELL DID THEY DO THAT? We didn't get attached enough to his character to care about him dying, and when he was gone, that meant that Kick-Ass and the pretty Olson sister had to run the show, which was a bad idea from the get-go. What the hell?! Finally (I don't want this to go on too long), the monsters Godzilla contended against were a complete waste of time. They were lame and they shouldn't have been in the picture. There are so many reasons why I absolutely can't stand this movie and even think the Matthew Broderick Godzilla movie was even better than this atrocity, but I'm already getting too upset as it is and don't want to raise my blood pressure. Godzilla was the absolute worst movie of 2014 and I curse it. Curse from the pit of my soul. It was a mistake. An utter and complete mistake.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: Song of Simon

Song of SimonSong of Simon by C.A. Sanders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you're a fan of high fantasy, then raise my score by one star. But, given that I can't even finish reading the second Lord of the Rings book, it's safe to say that I'm not a fan of the genre. In fact, I hate it. Which says a lot for C.A. Sanders' book, Song of Simon, because I did finish it. So, uh, take that, Tolkein! :) But I do have an issue with the protagonist, and it's a major one. I didn't like him. And I mean, like, throughout the entire book. I never found him likeable and was never truly interested in his storyline. He does have growth, though, so I will give the author credit for that.

Another issue I had with the book is the tone. As a writer friend of mine told me, it's like Harry Potter in the beginning and it turns into Game of Thrones, which is absolutely the case. The violence in this book is so vividly described, that you feel like you're actually right there on the battlefield. I'm most certainly not saying that's a bad thing, but it kind of throws off whatever tone this book is trying to go for. In the end, it left me a little lost.

All the same, if you like high fantasy, you'll love Song of Simon. Personally, I don't love high fantasy, hence my "it's just okay" score.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Why King James Putting His Arm Around Kate Middleton Deepens My Love For America

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It's 2014, and a Basketball player from the Cleveland Cavaliers is more important than a member of the Royal Family. Or at least, said Basketball player thinks he is. This last part is important, because LeBron James, who is arguably the most famous player in the NBA, recently draped his arm around Kate Middleton and took a picture, because hey, they're not so different. In fact, they're pretty much equals.

What's beautiful about this last statement, and why this photo faux pas deepens my love for America, is that it's actually true. In relation to the rest of the world, a self-made star Basketball player like LeBron James (oh, I'm sorry, King James) truly is of the same level of royalty as Kate Middleton.

Let me explain.

In America, being rich and, more importantly, being famous, equals royalty. People will bend over backwards for you and you're pretty much above the law no matter where you are in the world. You're a Czar. You're a King. You're the Pope. A DWI means nothing but a bad mugshot, and if you want to kill somebody, go ahead. It will probably make you even more of a star (See: OJ Simpson, who's notoriety has extended his shelf life much longer than if he'd just been a football player/actor). In America, you can EARN your royalty, rather than just be born or marry into it. And this photo is evidence of that. As shallow as we are to worship actors and athletes over teachers and doctors, it does say a lot when a Basketball player wouldn't even question putting his arm around the Duchess of Cambridge. Because really, what's royalty in England worth, which has centuries of traditions, when you have Nike endorsements and McDonald's commercials?

What's even MORE beautiful about all this is that it wasn't intentional. LeBron James truly didn't feel like he was doing anything wrong by putting his arm around her. That's sort of like if some famous Cricket player from India came over here and put his arm around the President. Or, hell, if some famous Cricket player from India came over here and put his arm around LeBron as if they were best friends. And that's just it. LeBron honestly didn't see a problem with this, and there isn't one. LeBron is, most likely, more well-known that Kate Middleton will ever be, and that's just fine. Entertainment trumps "tradition".

And that's why I love America. Some might call it ignorance, and some might call it an inflated ego. But I just call it swag. I love you America. You've got swag.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review: The Exorcist

The ExorcistThe Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, I guess I can now put The Exorcist on my list of movies that are much better than the book (It's right up there with Fight Club, The Shining, and A Clockwork Orange, two of which were directed by Stanley Kubrick). It's not that The Exorcist is bad, per se, as there were a few moments that really got under my skin. But it just can't compete with the movie. That music, that face, that voice. Just everything about the movie trumps this book by a mile.

And I think lot of that can be attributed to the lackluster side-story. The Detective Kinderman sections felt like they made up half the book, and they weren't even that interesting (I don't even remember the character in the film to be honest). And while the book is a relatively quick read, I felt that there were sections that moved much faster than others. Again, anything with Kinderman felt slow, while all the stuff that dealt with the possession moved at a rapid pace. If you're deciding on reading the book, I'd say to just watch the movie instead. It's superior in every way.

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