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Posted in Books & Reading, Story & Characters, Writing Insight

The Complete “Guardian” Trilogy


About The Guardian Trilogy:
The Guardian Trilogy delves into the harrowing trials of Alexander Croft, a security guard and seemingly average 30-something-year-old man, whose life is forever changed in a violent instant. After being accused of a series of heinous crimes he didn’t commit, Alex is sentenced to life in a hellish prison.

Or so his fate seems.

Because unbeknownst to him, Alex is no ordinary man. He is a Voror, a magically-gifted being commissioned with the protection of the Realms – and nothing can keep him from his true destiny.

In The Guardian Trilogy, follow Alex’s life-changing and life-challenging journey, from his training at the Voror Council in the least-admired Task of all, to a chance at love and romance with a woman whose people have wronged him, to his encounters with an enemy who has stalked him since birth, to his personal mission to clear his family name and protect the Realms from encroaching darkness. As evil rises, Alex must stand to meet it or watch everyone he has grown to love be destroyed.

Books in The Guardian Trilogy:

Book One: The Guardian

Description: Ever since Alex Croft was little, robed beings have shadowed his every move. But after he is wrongfully incarcerated, the robed strangers have apparently abandoned him. Or so it seems. When Alex’s true identity is revealed, he enters a world he has always seen but never really known. A realm where he learns how to protect the innocent from an evil that desires to control everything in its path. Especially Alex. As he trains as an apprentice within the Voror Council, Alex uncovers a sinister secret seeking to destroy him. To save himself and others, he will have to endure the same darkness he sought to escape. In this first installment of The Guardian Trilogy, Alex Croft will not only learn magic-infused Words and make strange, new allies but also discover the truth about himself and his past. A truth that will become either his destiny or his downfall.

Direct Link (Paperback): http://goo.gl/ORdSCm
Direct Link (Kindle): http://goo.gl/NjdoXq

Book Two: The Guardian Prophecy

Description: Handler Apprentice Alex Croft is invited by Sunniva, the Council’s Head Healer, to accompany her on a journey across the Realms as she seeks out an exiled Voror. Along the way, Alex encounters old friends, new enemies, and discovers a growing attraction to the hauntingly beautiful Niobe of Ryncheon. Yet the threat of Belial of Rastaban’s forces shadows their every move as they race to uncover a truth that many have desired to conceal – a truth Rastaban has killed for in order to obtain. Past grievances come to seek vengeance as Rastaban’s rebels seek to set up their own regime. And the only way Alex can hope to stop them is to make the ultimate sacrifice. In this second installment of The Guardian Trilogy, Alex Croft learns what it means to fulfill his destiny as a Guardian, which may cost him everything.

Direct Link (Paperback): http://goo.gl/5fzUU2
Direct Link (Kindle): http://goo.gl/ktwiWG


Book Three:
The Guardian Wars

Description: After miraculously surviving torture at Rastaban’s hands, Handler Alex of Croft knows the hour grows short as war among the Realms draws closer. Mustering his friends and unexpected allies, Alex assumes the role of the prophesied Halcyon and decides to cut off his enemy at the place where it all began, the infamous prison Erebus and home to the Gates of the Dead. The Guardian Wars concludes Alex of Croft’s  journey as a man of divided bloods.  But can he be a shining light in a dark place or will the darkness finally consume him?

Direct Link (Paperback): goo.gl/Ofv4Vn
Direct Link (Kindle): goo.gl/rkbsFD

Background on The Guardian Trilogy
The Guardian Trilogy is project over a decade in the making and started with a rather odd mash-up of ideas. As the author puts it, One summer, I was reading the “Harry Potter” novels and watching reruns of the Fox drama series “Prison Break.” The two stories merged in my mind as I thought, “What if Michael Scofield [chief protagonist on “Prison Break”] was a wizard?” That sparked a mental chain reaction and I had to write it out. Eventually, it evolved into The Guardian Trilogy.

Thus, The Guardian Trilogy is a fantasy series that hopes to pay respects to classic hero quest epics while remaining an entirely original piece, chiefly through the introduction of the Vorors, a magically-gifted race charged with protecting the Realms, and the Sangres, a vampiric people who are siblings to the Vorors. Both worlds collide with Alex Croft caught in the middle.

Posted in Media

Descendants/Descendants 2 Review


While I’m not in the target audience for most of the Disney Channel’s programming, I was drawn to the Descendants chiefly due to its concept: what if some of Disney’s top baddies had children and those children were given the choice to do good – would they take it or turn up their villainous noses?

This premise becomes the backbone for both entries in Disney’s Descendants franchise, which also consists of an animated show (which I’ve never watched) and a book series (which I have read) by Melissa de la Cruz that, to date, consists of three books – The Isle of the Lost, Return to the Isle of the Lost, and Rise of the Isle of the Lost. While these are separate from the movies, they help develop the characters and are rollicking, clean adventure stories. (Just to note, Isle of the Lost is a prequel to Descendants, Return to the Isle of the Lost is a filler story, and Rise of the Isle of the Lost serves as a prequel to Descendants 2.)

I first became aware of Descendants back in 2015 thanks to iTunes when it featured the first movie’s soundtrack on the store homepage. The idea of a story about the children of some of Disney’s worst neer-do-wells sounded intriguing and I listened to and liked some of the music; so I decided to check out Descendants in 2015 and its follow-up, Descendants 2, in 2017. But how do these two teen films stack up, and is there anything for an older audience to like?

[Content Note: Descendants and Descendants 2 were both given a TV-G rating for mild fantasy violence.]

[SPOILER NOTE: While I won’t reveal major spoilers, there may be some minor spoilers discussed or mentioned.]

Descendants (2015)

The first entry’s premise is fairly straightforward: characters from various Disney tales are split into two worlds with all of the good, noble, heroic figures residing in the United States of Auradon (yes, USA for short) and all of the villainous folk doomed to dwell on the Isle of the Lost where their ability to use magic is forever hindered. For years, these two groups have lived separate lives and, thanks to a magical barrier, are unable to cross to the other side. All of that changes when Prince Ben (Mitchell Hope), son of King Beast and Queen Belle, decides to allow some of the villains’ children to attend Auradon Prep and be taught how to be good. His handpicked villains-to-be are Carlos (Cameron Boyce), the cynophobic son of Cruella De Vil; Evie (Sofia Carson), the beauty and fashion-obsessed daughter of Snow White‘s Evil Queen; Jay (Booboo Stewart), the thieving son of Aladdin‘s magical malefactor, Jafar; and Mal (Dove Cameron), daughter of Maleficent, the most evil fairy on the Isle and its self-proclaimed leader.

Conflict ensures as Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay aren’t exactly keen on the idea of learning to be good, but they will take any chance they can get to leave the Isle. However, Maleficent (Kristen Chenoweth) commissions Mal with finding Fairy Godmother’s wand and bringing it back to the Isle so she can become its feared ruler once more, only with magic in hand. At first, Mal is more than happy to make her mother proud, so she enters Auradon Prep with ulterior motives. However, over time, she, Evie, Carlos, and Jay find their place among their peers and begin to question whether a life of villainy is really the best path or if being good is a better way to live.

Overall, Descendants is just flat-out fun! It has an energetic cast, its soundtrack is frothy and bouncy, its story is easy to take but offers good food for thought, and its production value is impressive for a made-for-TV film. The target audience is definitely pre-teens and teens, but I’m an adult and I had a blast! (Of course, knowledge of Disney lore helps, so if you’re not familiar with any Disney characters, then this probably won’t hold much appeal.)


To start, the four leads look like they are having a great time in their respective roles, and I commend actors for that. If an actor or actress looks like he’s bored or she’s just reading lines for a paycheck, then I’m not going to be too invested in their performance. But to Cameron’s, Carson’s, Boyce’s, and Stewart’s credit, that’s not the case. Each one of them brings a healthy dose of youthful energy and charming quirks that make them stand out, and their characters are each given a chance to shine in unique ways: Mal has to deal with the pressure of being Maleficent’s daughter, Evie tries to make her mother proud by trying to land herself a prince, Carlos contends with his fear of dogs, and Jay does his best to prove he can put his street smarts to the test. It’s these little traits and inner conflicts that make the cast fun to watch both as individuals and as a whole. And while the lip syncing during the movie’s musical performances might not be the tightest, for me it’s the performances that count more so than trying to fake singing along to a musical track, so I’d still award an A+ to each of the young leads.

Speaking of music, Descendants boasts an upbeat, frothy pop soundtrack that is fun to listen to even on its own. Granted, it’s tuned for the Radio Disney crowd but that doesn’t mean it’s a weak mix of songs. For me, the standout tracks would be the first ensemble number, “Rotten to the Core,” which injects dubstep into its poppy confection; “Evil Like Me,” a bouncy, boisterous, Broadway-esque track that allows Chenoweth to channel her inner Maleficent; and “If Only,” the movie’s only ballad that lets Dove Cameron fly solo, and it’s my favorite song of the bunch. Granted, there were two songs I thought were a bit cheesy: “Did I Mention” is a goofy puppy love song that accompanies an equally goofy dance number and the remix of “Be Our Guest” is appreciatively brief. However, I sense those tracks might appeal to a younger crowd and they are by no means awful.

Lastly, the plot to Descendants is easy to follow but still entertaining thanks to the young leads and the plethora of Disney Easter eggs, some admittedly more cleverly included than others. The production value, too, is impressive as the sets are large, colorful, and do their best not to come across as low-budget or cheap. That being said, some of the special effects are a bit weak but, considering this was made for TV and not for cinemas, it’s forgivable. If I had any criticism, it would be that some of the plot hinges on a love story that becomes insta-love (though, to be fair, magic is involved to intentionally speed up the process). But even when magic is removed from the equation, the attraction between two characters is very much like what you’d see in a standard – but clean – YA love story. It’s not cringe-worthy, but, as an adult, it’s hard for me to hear teens proclaim how deep their love is for one another at the ripe old age of not-even-20. But to the movie’s credit, it’s sweet and chaste and the male love interest is a genuinely good guy, not a brooding bad boy or a low-down creep.


Even though the plot is lightweight, it does present good messages about giving people a second chance and carving out your own path in life. Prince Ben is a noble character who believes that even a villain deserves to be treated with kindness and compassion. In the same way, Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay initially balk at the idea of changing their ways but eventually discover that they don’t have to follow in their parents’ footsteps – they can stand on their own, and while that doesn’t change where they came from, they can decide where their lives go in the future.

Overall, I’d give Descendants a solid letter grade of an A. It’s an enjoyable made-for-TV flick that, as a whole, is akin to summertime cotton candy: deep down it might be empty calories but it’s still colorful, delicious, sweet, and leaves you with a cheerful, sunny feeling inside.

Descendants 2 (2017)

Unfortunately, I have to give its sequel, Descendants 2, a solid C grade. That’s not to say this is a bad followup, but much of what made Descendants work for me was lacking this time around.

While Descendants had a definable plot, Descendants 2’s story is onion skin thin almost to the point of being non-existent. Rather than opening with a scene that sets the primary conflict, much like the opening scene in Descendants, this sequel kicks things off with, essentially, a music video for “Ways to Be Wicked” (a number clearly trying to recapture the feel and tone of “Rotten to the Core”). However, even though it’s a catchy song and it’s one of the soundtrack’s standouts, it doesn’t do anything to set the stage for the story. It’s as if the plot didn’t have a good way to work the song in, so it decided to tack on a music video at the start of the movie. This lack of initial focus plagues the plot as, for about the first hour, it seems as if the central conflict will be that Mal feels she doesn’t belong among the good people of Auradon and decides to return to the Isle of the Lost. Mal actually spends a lot of time bemoaning her “I-just-don’t-fit-in” state. While she manages to not become too annoying, her angst was something relatively unseen in the first movie, so it brings a bit of a damper on things here.

For about an hour, it seems as if the antagonist is going to be Mal herself and her existential crisis of sorts, despite the fact that, this time around, we’re promised some new faces in the form of three new villains’ children: Uma (China Anne McClain), daughter of Ursula; Harry Hook (Thomas Doherty), son of Captain Hook; and Gil (Dylan Playfair), the slightly meat-headed offspring of Gaston. These new faces don’t show up until the first hour is nearly spent, which is a shame as these new characters are fun albeit they are a bit one note. Likewise, as Uma is played up as Mal’s arch nemesis in the trailers, nothing early on in the movie itself really explains why the two girls are rivals other than they just are. (In fact, Uma’s backstory in Rise of the Isle of the Lost is more helpful to this effect.) Thus, once Uma tries to make a play for becoming boss of the Isle of the Lost, it doesn’t feel like a takeover but a convenient plot device because there was nothing else for Uma to do. If her story would have been introduced sooner and with more background, I think I would have found her character more enjoyable and relevant to the story as a whole.


One aspect that helped ground the characters in Descendants but is decidedly absent here is the presence of the villainous parents. Even though their roles were minor in the first movie, we were still treated to scenes involving Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, Jafar, and the Evil Queen. These interactions provided background details for Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay as it helped audiences see who their parents were and how their parents treated them, which made the young leads’ transformations all the more striking. Plus, it added for some great comedy as these notorious Disney neer-do-wells haven’t exactly gone to seed, but they’re not at the top of their game anymore and it’s funny to watch them contend with that.

However, in Descendants 2 we never see any of the young leads’ parents save for Maleficent in lizard form (so Ms. Chenoweth makes nary an appearance). We don’t even get introduced to the three new young villains’ parents, so Captain Hook, Gaston, and Ursula never show up except for a CGI tentacle and an off-screen voice actress as a fill-in for Ursula. Instead, it’s the youngsters ruling the roost here, and while it probably wasn’t necessary to show Mal’s, Evie’s, Carlos’s, and Jay’s parents again, it would have been helpful to feature Uma interacting with her mom and Harry and Gil with their respective dads. As a whole, the plot feels like it would have found its feet if it was forced to be at least forty minutes shorter than its near two-hour running time. Instead, the movie plods until the third act, which finally introduces some much-needed action.

Likewise, the tone is a little less fun and lighthearted than the first go around. As stated, Mal spends quite a bit of time being distraught over her place in the world, and while such a conflict would have been fine, it’s dragged out and brings in a dash of angst that was absent in Descendants. That’s not to say Descendants 2 is depressing as its not, but it seems like it’s trying to appeal to an older teen bracket as opposed to the bright, colorful, and more youthfully cheerful Descendants. There were a few other little bones of contention that I didn’t have with the first movie, namely a feminist message involving a very minor character that felt like it was inserted just because and the near-constant reliance upon a “be yourself” mantra. Again, overt messages are fine in media for youth, but to constantly have characters spout lines and sing songs about being yourself started to wear thin and I appreciated the more subtle messages about second chances and good choices from the first film.


All of that being said, Descendants 2 does have its bright moments. The lead cast features the characters’ original actors who seamlessly step right into character. Uma, Harry, and Gil are welcomed additions despite being slightly one-note: Gil is a bit of a dunderhead but he’s not so stupid that he’s cringe-worthy, Harry Hook exudes a cocky self-confidence, and Uma is just plain fun as McClain looks like she’s enjoying herself every minute she’s on screen. Not to mention this young lady has some serious vocal power, and her rousing signature musical number, “What’s My Name,” is thrilling to watch and it would be right at home in a Broadway show.

Production-wise, Descendants 2 has fancier sets, one of which includes a ship where a climactic sword fight between Mal and Co. and Uma and her crew of scalawags takes place. While the special effects aren’t always up to par, they avoid looking too cheap. Lastly, the soundtrack, while not my favorite between the Descendant movies, still boasts some decent tunes, namely “Ways to Be Wicked” and “What’s My Name.” While the former is more fun to listen to on its own as its incorporation into the movie is a bit forced, the latter is actually more impressive watching it performed by McClain. “Chillin’ Like a Villian” is also a bouncy little pop ditty that’s worth a mention for its bubbly production. And an honorable mention goes to “Space Between,” which is a pretty duet between Dove Cameron and Sofia Carson, but it’s an obligatory ballad that tries to mimic “If Only” in terms of being a serious, self-reflection song. It’s by no means bad and serves its purpose but it’s not the most unique offering on the soundtrack. Lastly, for me, the weakest song is the movie’s closing number, “You and Me,” which sounds like a ripoff of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” in terms of theme as it hammers home more vague messages about “being yourself” and “changing the world” and lacks the lighthearted, vibrant energy of Descendant‘s closing tune, “Set it Off“.

Thus, I’d award Descendants 2 a C letter grade as it’s solidly average. The novelty from Descendants is gone and, in its place, are characters who are not so much intent on having adventures but bemoaning about not fitting in. In the same way, the paper-thin plot meanders, never truly finding its footing, and the music is fairly generic save for the rousing “What’s My Name.” That being said, it has its entertaining moments but I didn’t feel the same sense of cheer that I did with Descendants. Thus, Descendants 2 is less like cotton candy and more like pink lemonade: it’s still colorful and fun with a hint of sweetness but it has some noticeable bitter notes though it’s not unpalatable.

The Run-Down:

As a whole, the Descendants franchise is definitely tailor-made for a teen audience, but that doesn’t mean we adults can’t enjoy the show. I could definitely see teen girls – especially young teen girls – absolutely loving these movies, and that’s great! Content-wise, it’s clean and the messages in general are good and well-intended. Likewise, Disney aficionados of all ages might enjoy checking this out for a creative spin on some classic Disney mythos and figures (though the books of the Descendant series do a stronger job in this regard). Overall, I’d definitely recommend checking out Descendants and, for curiosity’s sake, watch Descendants 2. While this series might inherently hold more appeal for teens, there are enough clever homages, good music, cool characters, and fun adventures all around to satisfy the Disney kid in all of us.

Posted in book tags, Books & Reading, Story & Characters

Book Tag – 2017 Mid-Year Reading Recap

I found this book tag on Carissa Reads it All and decided to give it a try (though I made changes for my own purposes). (You can read the original tag here.) Just to note, I’ll be discussing books I’ve read this year in general, so I’m not limiting my choices to books that were released in 2017 as some were not.

So with that out of the way, let’s get started! 🙂

1. Best book you’ve read in 2017 so far.
Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
Honestly, I would lump together all of Zahn’s Thrawn-related novels (meaning any novel that featured or mentioned Thrawn as a character). But if I had to choose, I’d go with this most recent work, which serves as Thrawn’s origin story (concerning his Imperial service, that is). Grand Admiral Thrawn is an outstanding character all the way around thanks to his tactical expertise, sharp intellect, careful attention to detail, unique appreciation for art, and intriguing cultural background. It almost makes you feel bad that he’s considered a villain because he possesses a lot of attributes that would have made him an awesome good guy. Not to mention that, despite his incredible smarts, Thrawn isn’t all-knowing, and I enjoyed this aspect to his character here as it keeps him from becoming too good to be true or too larger than life. Also, as a quick side note, I liked how Zahn used a light hand when it came to depicting the prejudice Thrawn occasionally faces because he’s a non-Human. Zahn could have ruined the story by overplaying this; instead he incorporates it as an inherent aspect of Thrawn’s development and leaves it at that, not trying to use the novel as a social justice soapbox. In fact, I was so impressed by Thrawn that he now has claimed the number one spot as my all-time favorite book villain. Yes, Grand Admiral Thrawn has officially bumped the Dark Lord himself, Lord Voldemort, out of first place! 🙂

2. Worst book you’ve read in 2017 so far.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I hated this book and not for the reasons you might expect. While I don’t automatically have a problem with books that tackle hefty issues like bullying and suicide, I do take issue with stories that don’t present good moral takeaways about those topics. I appreciated how the novel attempts to show how our actions or lack thereof can impact others, but there was too much here that I didn’t like. For starters, Hannah was a terrible person as she’s mean-spirited and lacks good common sense. While there was no excuse for her to have been treated the way that she was, she could have spared herself much grief by not allowing herself to be in compromising situations in the first place. For example, in one scene, Hannah is raped in a hot tub by a male classmate. But had she decided beforehand not to go to that particular friend’s house and NOT to get into a hot tub (wearing only her underwear) with a boy she knew was trouble, the assault probably would have never happened. There are other instances like this throughout the novel that caused me to have a strong dislike for Hannah as she could have kept herself out of a lot of situations where trouble was just waiting to happen. Likewise, there are no redeemable adult characters here and parental figures are either faceless or non-existent. Worst of all, Hannah’s caustic attitude is devoid of any sense of forgiveness, any sense of personal responsibility, any indication that she learned anything from her mistakes, or any common sense. In short, while I can see how this novel might serve as a conversation starter for some teens, I, personally, couldn’t immerse myself in it and didn’t find much (if any) good to take away from it.

3. Best sequel you’ve read in 2017 so far.
Wires and Nerve, Vol. 1 by Marissa Meyer
While this book technically doesn’t count as a direct sequel to the Lunar Chronicles series, it still picks up the stories of the series’ main characters, so I count it as sequel-ish. These characters transition well from novel to graphic novel, and I think this new medium allows for Meyer to continue their stories in a more serialized fashion while not sacrificing what I’ve come to know and love about my favorite characters (which would be all of them!). This particular volume showcases Kiko, Cinder’s robotic comrade, and it gives her a great chance to shine and step up from just being a cool sidekick character. Overall, I thought this was just a good, fun adventure story and I definitely look forwarding to reading more. (By the way, the cover is gorgeous in person as it has a nice shine to it and the colors are very saturated, vibrant, and eye-catching.)

4. Worst sequel you’ve read in 2017 so far.
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
I enjoyed this trilogy’s first novel, Shadow and Bone, despite the fact I’ve seen that type of plot done before. But the world building, magic, and the sinister yet alluring Darkling (who I kept envisioning as Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens – not a bad mental image, by the way) kept me engaged. However, its follow-up novel, Siege and Storm, was a disappointment as it resorted to the usual YA fantasy cliches I’ve read a million times over. Unfortunately, it was enough to discourage me from reading the final book, so I read a plot summary instead. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t bother with Ruin and Rising as it sounds like I would not have enjoyed that at all. As a whole, I think I’m done with YA. While I don’t mind reading books with teens as lead characters, more often than not the plot devices and elements that probably attract teens only infuriate or bore me because they’re either rife with drama or are nothing new or unique.

5. Most anticipated release for the second half of 2017.
Here’s Negan by Robert Kirkman
This is a collection of the previously released series of short comics for Image+ that detailed the backstory of The Walking Dead‘s most notorious villain. While I’ve managed to read some of the comics online, I haven’t been able to find them all, especially the later ones; so when I saw they were all going to be released in a single volume, I was super-excited! Negan ranks in my top three favorite book villains of all time (in proud company with Grand Admiral Thrawn), so I can’t wait to read his backstory in full. (Based on what I’ve seen so far, some of who Negan is in the principle comics and even the TV show makes a lot more sense in light of who he was before the apocalypse.) I know I’m not supposed to root for a villain, but I can’t help myself. #TeamNegan 🙂

6. Biggest disappointment of 2017 so far.
Hunted by Meagan Spooner
I wanted to like this one but just couldn’t. First, I don’t care for Stockholm Syndrome-esque “love” stories because they’re all shades of questionable (and what ultimately made me sit this aside was when the Beast blurs the lines between hate and love, torment and affection). Likewise, the lead character is a card-carrying feminist as she sees marriage and children as traps to be avoided rather than lifestyle choices that are perfectly legitimate, and the story’s pacing (despite this being a short read) was too slow. Lastly, the author’s response to one reader’s legitimate quesiton about content in this novel was in bad taste, and I just can’t respect a writer who treats her readers in such a snarky manner. Even if Ms. Spooner doesn’t see the value in knowing about a novel’s content (something an older thread on the comments above reflected but has since been deleted), some of us readers (myself included) like to know what to expect, especially in terms of sexual content, before we dive into a story lest we inadvertently spend good money on smut. Her attitude, in my opinion, was not cool and, for that, I will never read anything penned by Ms. Spooner in the future.

7. Best surprise read of 2017 so far.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles
I normally don’t peruse Westerns: not that I harbor hatred for the genre but it’s just not something I gravitate to. Yet the cover attracted my attention and the blurb intrigued me, so I decided to check it out. I’m so glad I did! This falls into an on-the-road type of story where Captain Jefferson Kidd, a grizzled war veteran, assumes temporary guardianship of a young girl who has recently been rescued by the Army after she had been captured by an Indian tribe years ago. The set up is what you’d expect: Captain Kidd is a gruff, tough, weathered man (my mind kept conjuring up images of Sam Elliott), and his young charge is completely ignorant of the ways of White civilization. Both struggle with their shared predicament as they venture to reunite her with relatives, and it makes for some awesome drama and genuinely touching moments. I loved their relationship as it is initially based on a sense of respect and loyalty to each other but later evolves. (And, no, absolutely nothing inappropriate happens – their relationship stays strictly a paternal figure-daughter-figure pairing.) The ending was exactly what I was rooting for and it warmed my heart. This was a surprise for me because, even though it’s technically a Western, it’s not the typical cowboys-and-horses type of story. Instead, it’s a touching tale about two unlikely souls who find solidarity in an ever-changing world.

8. One book you read this year (so far) that made you sad.
Dividing Eden by Joelle Charbonneau
Seeing as this is yet another YA fantasy (a genre that finally struck out for me this year due to its share of massive disappointments), I wasn’t expecting much. But I love it when I’m surprised! What made this novel work for me was its focus on a brother-sister pairing rather than the usual love triangle or worst enemies-to-love interests tropes. This was a speedy read and the dynamic between twins Carys and Andreus cranked up the tension. Also, there were some surprises lurking about, especially regarding one of the twins, that I wasn’t expecting. What makes this novel sad for me is Carys and Andreus’ strained relationship. Without revealing spoilers, I’ll just say that their bond is fraught with secrets that must be kept out of the public eye. However, while one twin works tirelessly to ensure the other twin isn’t exposed, the protective twin’s sacrificial nature and good heart are often taken advantage of by the protected twin. Normally, YA fantasy-lite court intrigue is a guaranteed snooze-fest for me, so I was thoroughly pleased with and surprised by this book.

9. One book you read this year (so far) that made you happy.
The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery
I’ve read Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series a long time ago and I had no idea she penned stories for adults (meaning the lead characters are adults rather than children or teens). This novel appeared in my GoodReads recommendations and the blurb intrigued me, so I decided to check it out. This was one of those rare novels where I found myself standing almost shoulder to shoulder with the lead character. Here, Valancy is an older single lady who does her best to fight her frustrations over being single and in her dealings with her stiff upper lipped family and small town. In order to escape her depression and daily disappointments, Valancy creates an imaginary world where she dwells in her self-created Blue Castle and falls madly in love with imagined suitors. However, after being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition, Valancy decides to make a change in her life. This coaxes her from her self-created bubble as she’s free to let her dreams soar. A sweet love story comes into the mix but I won’t divulge anything further lest I spoil the story. Overall, this novel will undoubtedly be in my top three favorites for the year. This is a classic, delightful story that was a joy to read, and I literally hugged this book upon finishing it.

10. Worst book cover of this year so far.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
To be fair, I wouldn’t label this cover the “worst” but it’s visually annoying to me. (Just to note, this is the hardcover edition as the paperback edition looks vastly different.) At first glance, it seems as if the image of the model can be seen in full if you remove the red dust jacket. However, the dust jacket’s cutouts are not actually cutouts but imprinted into the paper itself (at least that’s how my copy was designed). That’s a shame because I think the cover would have been more effective either just showcasing the model or having the cutout design alone. But to have the central image obstructed from view struck me as a weak design decision.

11. Best book cover of this year so far.
Roar by Cora Carmack
After learning that this YA fantasy novel was penned by a romance writer, I wasn’t expecting much. However, I was pleasantly surprised as the magic system is creative and most of the characters are fun (though some of the romance-driven scenes linger a tad too long and border on becoming sappy). However, it was the cover that really caught my attention as it’s one that looks better in person. For starters, it has three dimensional elements to it so the title stands out, which is always a nice touch. Also, though you can’t see it here, the art is actually a panorama that wraps around the entire dust jacket so it’s one continuing scene rather than a solitary snapshot. Likewise, I love the organic color combination of pink, purple, green, grey, and white, and I think this works to establish the story’s overall tone and magical setting, which is chiefly outdoors. Overall, the story itself was good but the cover is excellent!

And, last but not least…

12. Fictional crush of 2017.

Grand Admiral Thrawn.
Because why not! 😉

Posted in Book Review, Books & Reading, Story & Characters

Book Review – “The Casual Vacancy”


Overview [from GoodReads]:
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils – Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?

My Take: Being the Harry Potter fan that I am, when news first broke that J.K. Rowling was releasing another book, I went straight to Amazon and placed a pre-order. Honestly, I didn’t care what it was – I just wanted another book by her! Now, to be fair, I knew this venture was not going to be anything like Harry Potter, wasn’t fantasy, and was going to be exclusively for an adult audience. That description certainty fits The Casual Vacancy, which doesn’t entirely disappoint, but some adult Potter fans who are used to Rowling’s wit and whimsy might not be too keen on it.

This novel is set in a modern fictional British suburb called Pagford where the town is in political turmoil after a parish councilmen dies unexpectedly. I did find the depiction of small-town politics on-the-nose because, despite it being British, it possessed striking similarities as to how small-town America can be run. The novel introduces a plethora of characters, ranging from well-to-do factions of society to rebellious teens. I will give Rowling credit for tackling some ponderous social and socio-psychological issues such as addiction, child abuse, self-harm, adultery, poverty, suicide, rape, welfare, and issues related to social class (primarily who does or does not possess a “voice” or a say). Needless to say, it’s a heavy read that you won’t finish overnight.

To be honest, I struggled with this book. I wanted to at least like it, but at slightly over 500 pages (in hardcover form) the plot sagged multiple times. It feels like a long read that, page count-wise, really isn’t. But with the cast, multiple story threads, and hefty social issues, it’s rather weighty. Granted, I have to admit I really don’t like ensemble novels because there are so many characters to keep track of and I end up losing count. That happened to me quite often with The Casual Vacancy and I sometimes forgot who I was reading about and why I needed to care about them.

If one character stood out to me, it would be Krystal Weedon, the rebellious teenage daughter of a drug-abusing mother. Krystal epitomizes everything the novel seeks to depict – how dysfunctional, discouraging, and destructive modern society is. She herself abuses drugs; was raped by her mother’s drug dealer; endures living in a fractured home; engages in premarital sex; and ends up suffering greatly after losing the only person who seemed to strike a compassionate nerve in her. Be aware: Krystal is no role model and can be downright disgusting at times, much like most of the cast. But the fact she cares about at least someone close to her and tries to rise above her station in life makes her slightly likable.

Writing-wise, Rowling definitely has no issues with execution, character development, or plot. My only complaint is that there are so many plot threads that it can become tedious trying to shuffle through them. I understand why she wrote this novel in this manner, but I still struggle to connect with books featuring an ensemble of characters as opposed to one or two central figures combined with a secondary cast. But she does have a way with words in terms of dialogue and description that makes you feel transplanted into the thick of the action.

In short, no one in this book is a model citizen, either in public or in private, and I sense that was what Rowling was going for. She wanted to show contemporary society as it is minus the façade we construct to hide or pretty up serious social, psychological, and political matters. More importantly, every character here possesses an internal vacancy, whether it concerns money, social status, sexual fulfillment, or personal achievement. They try to fill this void with something material or another person (who is just as messed up as they are) but it doesn’t truly satisfy. Hence, I feel what Rowling was trying to say was that money, sex, drugs, and the like are not modes of redemption for society’s erroneous ways or personal sins. People have to look beyond the superficial and beyond themselves in order to find hope and a purpose.

Unfortunately, the book stops shy of becoming a spiritual metaphor, which I think would have enabled me to give it a full pass and would have redeemed or at least excused the existence of some of the content issues. Instead, The Casual Vacancy presents its latent messages in the form of negative positives – don’t be like these characters or you will end up just as miserable. However, reading about miserable people in a miserable world does, at times, make for a miserable story which, ultimately, is what caused me to not give it a hardy thumbs up.

Content: This novel is NOT for the young Harry Potter crowd! While not “adult” in the sense that it’s erotic, this novel deals with issues and contains content too mature for a young audience.

Language – Strong profanities are utilized by most of the characters, especially the teens who don’t blink an eye in letting F-bombs, as well as other profanities, fly.

Violence – Graphic violence is non-existent but we do see unabashed instances of physical abuse, including rape, that are depicted in a non-graphic manner. Drug use and self-harm are also shown and described though not in a way to encourage said behaviors.

Sexual Content – Sexual content ranges from sex-related dialogue to references to and descriptions of sex acts, including rape. Nothing ever becomes graphic but some instances do involve teens, so some readers may not feel comfortable perusing blunt sexual talk or reading sex scenes involving minors. Overall, The Casual Vacancy is for mature readers only. Honestly, I was a bit disappointed by some of the content, but it is not done for shock value nor does it occur on every page. But if you have concerns about certain content issues, you’ll probably find yourself skimming through or skipping more than a few pages.

The Run-Down:

Overall, The Casual Vacancy is a passable read and, for me, this isn’t a story I would revisit. It’s dark and peels back the layers of society to reveal its sinful, immoral underbelly, and I applaud Rowling for being brave enough to tackle that in a way that feels authentic. Thus, The Casual Vacancy isn’t a bad book, but I do tend to suffer some disconnect with ensemble-focused narratives. Likewise, it’s a lengthy read that tried my patience more than once as this is more of a character-driven story rather than an action-driven story. Furthermore, some of the drug abuse and sexual material might be turn-offs to readers though their usage is strictly to prove how such things never make a person feel whole. Hence, for anyone interested in reading a slice of modern British life, this novel is an okay pick; but the sundry plots, multiple main characters, and persistent focus on political schemes and scandals just never became my cup of tea.

Posted in Media

Movie Review – “People Like Us”

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Introduction:
I have been on a Chris Pine kick as of late (but, come on, ladies, can you really say you blame me?) 😉  All superficiality aside though, I honestly am impressed with his acting and, while I probably won’t watch everything he’s done, I am determined to view most of his major films. Doing so has nudged me out of my cinematic comfort zone and into other genres I probably would have never touched (case in point: Hell or High Water). In this film’s case, normally I avoid family dramas because they tend to be generic and/or unbelievably unrealistic. Seeing as People Like Us is very much a family drama, and very much not my typical cup of tea, how did it stack up? Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.

The Story: [from Rotten Tomatoes]: From DreamWorks Pictures comes People Like Us, a drama/comedy about family, inspired by true events, starring Chris Pine as Sam, a twenty-something, fast-talking salesman, whose latest deal collapses on the day he learns that his father has suddenly died. Against his wishes, Sam is called home, where he must put his father’s estate in order and reconnect with his estranged family. In the course of fulfilling his father’s last wishes, Sam uncovers a startling secret that turns his entire world upside down: He has a 30-year-old sister Frankie whom he never knew about (Elizabeth Banks). As their relationship develops, Sam is forced to rethink everything he thought he knew about his family – and re-examine his own life choices in the process.

My Take:
I had this movie in my iTunes rental queue for a bit before I finally decided to check it out. I’m not sure why I put it off, but I suspect it had something to do with my apprehensions about this genre in general. My viewing experience with family dramas has been slim as I tend to shy away from realistic stories and focus more on the fantastical and purely fictional. Not to mention I’m not an openly emotional person, so watching films that make me feel like they’re trying to force me into soaking tissues with tears rubs me the wrong way because I don’t like a story trying to guide my feelings with as much subtly as a maestro conducting an orchestra.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by People Like Us and my preconceived notions were all but entirely dashed. One thing that works in this movie’s favor is its solid script. Not only does it tell a coherent, cohesive story that focuses on a small cast, it’s also adequately paced and allows its actors to emotionally go where they feel led. Concerning the inspiration for the story, this was apparently based on the real-life story regarding the film’s director, Alex Kurtzman, and his own long-lost sister. Despite this being based on a true story, nothing here feels like it’s trying too hard to reenact actual events. While I can’t say how closely the film follows Kurtzman’s personal journey, I can say that, for me, the story stands on its own even without knowing details of the director’s story.

I also appreciated the fact that the cast was small, which not only keeps the story’s mechanics simple but also gives viewers a chance to get to know the characters. Most of the story focuses on Sam trying to reconnect with his sister, Frankie, while also striving to fly under the radar so she doesn’t suspect anything. You can tell he is struggling to comprehend it all, learning that, after all this time, he has a sister as well as contemplate when the best time would be to reveal his true identity to her. To Frankie, Sam is a kind male friend who has taken her son, Josh, under his wing but who displays no romantic interest in her whatsoever. Therefore, their dynamic is fascinating thanks to Frankie’s ignorance of the truth and Sam’s reluctance to reveal too much too soon. While some of this did require me to suspend my disbelief at times, it came across as mostly genuine.

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Naturally this sense of authenticity comes down to the actors themselves, who you can tell seriously invested themselves into their respective characters. As always, I have to give props to Chris Pine, who I feel is a bit of an overlooked talent. I’m glad he wants to branch out and take on a variety of roles rather than being typecast or resigned to being an attractive face who gets cast in anything that comes along. While not everything a good actor does turns out perfect, I have noticed that Pine does his best to salvage whatever is asked of him in a script (such as his performance in the average spy action movie Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). In this film’s case, Pine didn’t have to mine very far to find good material to work with as People Like Us has a solid script that allows its actors to portray their respective characters as they see fit.

One quality to Pine’s acting that I’ve noted before is that, regardless what type of character he is playing, he is always able to make me feel like his character could be a real person. Nothing ever feels overdone or half-hearted; instead, Pine delivers a good balance. This is especially true here where Sam struggles with a myriad of emotions but never comes across as hackneyed or pathetic. Sam’s pain is our pain, his joy our joy, and he seems like a real person, someone who could actually exist. Only part of this can be attributed to the script because it takes an actor to make a character three dimensional, and that’s what Pine does: he creates a fully fleshed out character who reacts to situations in an organic fashion. In short, if I can believe the character an actor is playing could actually exist, then he’s succeeded as an actor. Pine does just that here, and I thought this was great casting and a great role for him.

Concerning the other lead, Elizabeth Banks, I’m not very familiar with her as an actress outside of her portrayal of Effie Trinket in the Hunger Games films. Thus, I don’t feel I can be a good judge of her performance here, but I thought she did a good job. Was it be enough to get me to intentionally seek out her movies? No, though I couldn’t find much fault with her portrayal of Frankie except that, at times, she did seem to over-act, causing Frankie to behave in a slightly overly dramatic way that clashed with Pine’s more balanced performance. However, Banks never becomes hammy and stays in character in a way that’s believable but just a touch over-dramatized. The final performer of note is Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays Sam’s mother. Again, I’m not overly familiar with Pfeffier’s filmography (having only seen her in three films, excluding this one: Dangerous Minds, Scarface, and Batman Returns), but I thought she handled her character well and made her struggles and desire for some secrets to remain hidden very believable.

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In terms of the film’s look and feel, this is physically a bright/naturally-lit film that, while classified as a drama, avoids becoming dismal. It might have been tempting to turn this into a dark family secrets type of tale but, instead, People Like Us maintains an upbeat tone, which helps carry it through the story’s more morose moments. Smatterings of comedy also break up the more somber scenes, and these are smartly integrated and never feel inserted strictly for the sake of trying to get a laugh. Likewise, the soundtrack and score (which was composed by A. R. Rahman) were also incorporated nicely, combining a quiet, string-driven orchestra with classic rock and alternative tracks. Seeing as some of the movie’s focal story points are musicians and music, this presented a good balance of sounds and, for the most part, blended seamlessly into the story.

All of that being said, People Like Us does suffer from a few minor flaws, none of which are deal breakers. The first is that, at times, the movie does try to intentionally elicit an emotional response from the audience chiefly through music choice. Sometimes during a happy scene, the music seemed a little too perky, and sometimes during a quieter moment, the score was a little too melodramatic. This is nitpicking but, for me, I think some of the movie’s best moments would have been just as effective, if not even more so, without music.

In the same way, the film’s running time seems unduly long. This movie clocks in a few minutes shy of two hours, and it feels like a nearly two hour-long movie. I think it could have been shortened by thirty or forty minutes and wouldn’t have lost its emotional integrity. If anything, it might have been stronger with a shorter running time. I confess there were times throughout the film that I started to mentally withdraw as some scenes tended to drag on a tad longer than what felt necessary. But again, this is nitpicking and it’s not like the film becomes a weakened story because of a two-hour running time, but it does feel stretched thin in spots.

Lastly, the film’s trailer misrepresents the final product to a certain degree (as most trailers do, one way or the other) as it makes it appear that Sam reveals the truth about his connection to Frankie early on, and this is what I kept expecting. Yet the story drags this plot point out and, while it builds tension and causes Sam’s dilemma to appear more realistic, I would have liked to have seen the truth brought out sooner, which might have helped shrink the running time. In the same way, and to further nitpick, I felt that some of Frankie’s reactions to particular situations bordered on being unbelievable at times. Her friendship with Sam (who, by all rights, is a total stranger to her and her son) seems to blossom and become too open too quickly even though she knows very little about him. Similarly, we learn that Sam is facing a legal inquiry on his job yet this is never resolved, which felt dismissive as if the script forgot to add a proper conclusion. But, again, this is fiction, which allows for the suspension of disbelief, though sometimes it feels like the film asked for a little too much suspension.

PEOPLE LIKE US
All of that being said (and, honestly, most of the negatives are just me being picky), People Like Us is a good, solidly constructed, well-acted story. While at times it can feel like it’s trying to be slightly emotionally manipulative, it’s never over-done. On top of its other positives, there were good messages here about being loyal to family as well as acting selflessly for the good of others. While Sam starts off as a selfish jerk, he doesn’t stay that way as his heart begins to change once he learns the truth about his family and sees that living life just for himself isn’t the best way to go. Though the story might seem a bit predictable, the ending does reveal a genuinely sweet surprise, which I won’t discuss it as it counts as a spoiler. But I thought it was a great note to close out on despite not wrapping up some of the other plot threads. In the end, I really liked People Like Us as it’s an uplifting story that shows how family bonds can withstand both long distances and the test of time.

Content Breakdown: People Like Us was given an PG-13 rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – Profanity usage is relatively infrequent but does employ PG and PG-13 words (chiefly the sh-word) and one f-word as well as a few obscene gestures (both of which are spoken by and delivered by kids).

Violence – None. There are a few tense family moments (including arguing and some characters being slapped but not abused), but nothing ever becomes violent and no one comes to any real harm. Elsewhere, Josh gets into trouble at school but no one ever comes to harm because of his antics.

Sexual Material – Essentially none save for a brief scene where Frankie and a neighbor try to have spontaneous sex, but they just fumble around fully clothed while standing up. Elsewhere, it’s a known fact that Sam and Frankie’s father fathered a child out of wedlock, but nothing further is ever discussed to this effect. Lastly, there are mild innuendos (some of which are spoken by a pre-teen character) but nothing graphic.

Substance Abuse – Sam’s father was taking medical marijuana to manage pain, so Sam eventually decides to smoke a leftover joint and his mother smokes one as well. Elsewhere, Frankie works as a bar tender at a trendy hot spot where alcoholic drinks abound (yet she herself has struggled with alcoholism and attends recovery meetings). A few other characters drink to get intentionally drunk.

Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe People Like Us stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):

Children – Not recommended, chiefly due to the film’s story and content as there is nothing here that would be interesting to young viewers.

Older Children & Teens – Recommended for older teens (age 16 and older) rather than anyone younger for the same reasons above – the story and its themes are tailored towards a mature audience and, unless teens are fans of anyone in the cast, I doubt they would display much interest.

Young Adults & Adults – Recommended, especially for persons looking for a family drama that, to its credit, doesn’t take itself too seriously and focuses more on family dynamics as opposed to dilemmas.

The Run-Down:
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Overall, People Like Us is a well-told story that has clear aims for its characters, sports a good cast, and has a tightly-constructed structure and appropriate tone. For anyone looking for a uplifting story about family that focuses more on the good things while not sidestepping the bad, this makes for a good pick. While the movie does feel like it pushes itself to make its two-hour running time and can run a little too melodramatic at times, it’s ultimately a refreshing watch and certainly worth checking out.

Final Verdict:
happy star movies ratinghappy star movies ratinghappy star movies rating
(Three out of Five Stars)

Posted in Media

Movie Review – “Suicide Squad”

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Introduction:
Suicide Squad was one of the most anticipated and promoted summer movies of 2016. After seeing its trailers, it looked kooky enough for me to give it a try. Even after the avalanche of bad press upon the film’s release, I was still intrigued to check it out to settle my own curiosity. So is this a blockbuster gone bust or is it just as misunderstood as its titular band of antiheroic misfits? Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.

The Story: [from Rotten Tomatoes]: It feels good to be bad… Assemble a team of the world’s most dangerous, incarcerated Super Villains, provide them with the most powerful arsenal at the government’s disposal, and send them off on a mission to defeat an enigmatic, insuperable entity. U.S. intelligence officer Amanda Waller has determined only a secretly convened group of disparate, despicable individuals with next to nothing to lose will do. However, once they realize they weren’t picked to succeed but chosen for their patent culpability when they inevitably fail, will the Suicide Squad resolve to die trying, or decide it’s every man for himself?

My Take:
I give every movie I watch the benefit of the doubt. Regardless what audiences or critics say, I sit those opinions aside and view a film with fresh eyes and draw my own conclusions. Sometimes a film that gets panned by critics gets praise from me, and other times a film that earns glowing reviews sometimes fails to ignite a spark in me.

So how did Suicide Squad hold up?

I just have to come right out and say it…
facepalm no oh great meh ugh
Suicide Squad is a terrible movie.

But it’s a special kind of terrible in that it’s not immediately apparent that it’s bad, at least not at first glance. Instead, it actually needs to be seen as its principle flaws exist at the structural level, its story’s skeleton as it were. It has broken bones and missing pieces that go unnoticed unless seen up-close. That struck me as such a shame seeing as this film obviously took millions to make, threw tons of money into its marketing, yet turned up drastically short on what – at least in theory – it had the potential to be.

As stated, the biggest flaw Suicide Squad possesses is in its very structure, which affects all of the components reliant upon it, from tone to characters’ story arcs. Each of the three acts are decidedly different in delivery, tone, and pacing. The first act, which introduces the members of the Suicide Squad, passed by at an erratic pace and felt like a sequence of infodumps. Rather than spend time organically incorporating characters’ backstories, the film takes the easy way out and splashes pertinent information about each character on the screen (a la trading card stats), giving the audience mere seconds to take it in. This is outright lazy, if you ask me. Instead of presenting the Squad’s members as unique individuals, the reasons as to what makes them each tick are simply glossed over. The only exception is Deadshot, who receives the most polished and coherent backstory in comparison (though even this is somewhat lacking), and he becomes one of the most well-rounded characters because of this.

Otherwise, act one is a floundering mess. It’s weighted down with pop music samples that barely play through one verse, it takes too long to set up the plot yet speeds through character introductions, and it drags its feet just getting to the initial  conflict. It isn’t until forty-plus minutes in for it to finally come to terms with what the general plot is going to be, which opens the door to act two.

But the second act is even shakier than the first as all it consists of is characters playing Rambo while dodging and shooting at bubble rock-headed humanoid creatures. It reminded me a video game and, in terms of character development, there leaves a lot to be desired. Scenes chiefly alternate between the Squad’s overseer (read: babysitter) Rick Flag growling orders and the Suicide Squad either (a). serving as backup or (b). just walking around. Seeing as a second act is supposed to be moving towards the story’s highest dramatic point, Suicide Squad misses the mark and echoes the narrative depth of a first-person shooter game. Despite all of the action, there is nothing of substance that occurs at such a critical time in the film.

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Thankfully, the movie seems to find its footing in the third act, which contains more character-focused moments albeit they’re brief at best. Honestly, the all-around best scene is the bar scene, which opens act three. This is where, for me, the movie really begins and it’s a shame it didn’t open with this sort of pacing and tone. There is no bombastic action, no frantic fights, and no flying bullets. It’s just the members of the Suicide Squad sitting around and talking. It’s a subdued but very effective scene as it dives into some  introspective and even philosophical moments. Here, some of the characters discuss what drives them, for better or worse. When one character laments about a terrible tragedy he directly caused, Harley Quinn urges him to “own that” and concurs with another character that, on the inside, each one of them is “ugly.”

She goes on to assert that, “Normal is a setting on the dryer. People like us, we don’t get normal.” Her remarks, as well as musings from other characters, raise the implied question of why people such as themselves are deprived of a normal life – does it simply come with the territory of being a villain or is it a direct consequence of committing bad actions? In another scene, Deadshot calls out Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) on some of her actions, including killing people in cold blood. He witnesses this and muses, “And I’m the bad guy?” Through this scene as well, the film raises questions of what it means to be a villain and how such a character is formed by the choices he or she makes. These would have been great to explore more thoroughly, and the film does in minor ways, but ultimately it forsakes any attempt to make serious connections or commentary and simply jumps from set piece to set piece.

I also liked the scene where Enchantress tries to manipulate some of the Squad by showing them visions of their deepest desires. Most of these hallucinations involve family, either real or imagined, and this was a nice touch as it dove briefly into what the Squad truly holds dear. By way of example, Harley Quinn envisions herself as a happily married woman with a house, two children, and a washing machine. This reveals more about her than any amount of neon graffiti on-screen text ever could because it shows rather than tells. On the surface, Quinn is crazy and violent yet in her heart she longs to be a wife and mom who both loves and is loved; thus, this shows how she’s not entirely infected by her bad inclinations. Yet, as with most of the best moments in this movie, the scene quickly ends and we’re made to endure yet another bombastic set piece. Collectively, these quiet, subtle moments all feel like they’re building up to something only to be deflated by overwrought action.

Overall, Suicide Squad is a mishmash of tones, pacing, and narrative styles. The first act is frantic, colorful, and full of infodumps that drag on far too long. Act two sacrifices character development for shoot-em-up video game-style action where dialogue exists only to instruct characters where to shoot, where to run, and what not to do. The third act is the strongest as the characters finally come together and start musing about the consequences of their transgressions. But it’s a shame it takes the film nearly its entire running time for the the best parts to emerge.

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Aside from these structural flaws, there are other issues serving as cracks in the film’s veneer, namely an odd chief antagonist choice. When news broke that the Clown Prince of Crime himself – the Joker – would be making an appearance, naturally I assumed he would serve as the film’s principle villain. However, in what has to be one of the film’s biggest blunders, the Joker (Jared Leto) does not become the central villain. Instead, that honor goes to Enchantress, one of the Suicide Squad’s own members. In fact, the Joker doesn’t consume much screen time at all, which is strange considering he’s one of DC’s biggest and most widely-recognized bad guys.

This choice utterly baffled me. The Joker is consistently ranked as one of the top comic book villains of all time and for good reason – he’s crazy, diabolical, manipulative, unorthodox, and yet carries a cloak of mystique. Even casual Batman fans know who the Joker is, as well as his basic traits, as he’s been a staple villain in the DC universe for years. Hence, it only made sense to showcase him as the film’s villain, seeing as most viewers probably won’t be familiar with the Suicide Squad, so it helps to have another principle character who is easily recognizable. But awarding the spot of chief antagonist to a relatively unknown character (at least to mass audiences) was a creative decision that made absolutely no sense. In terms of Leto’s performance as the Joker, I’d give it a two out of five: it’s not terrible as he gives it an urban gangsta flair but it’s far from flawless, and I can see why some fans don’t care for this interpretation. But part of the lack of love might be due to the fact that the Joker is never given much to do; hence, his presence is squandered and he’s never developed as a character.

Not to mention Enchantress is never given a good motive to be a villain. While it’s obvious she seeks to reclaim a part of her that another character is keeping hostage, why destroy the whole world? Why not just target that one individual? Similarly, since Enchantress seeks to control the world, why destroy it? If there is no world to rule over, what’s left to control? The only reason the film gives for her war against mankind is that she feels slighted that people no longer worship her as she was once revered as a goddess, but even this isn’t explored in depth or at any length. It’s almost as if the story just dropped her in as a villain and then scrawled in a random motive. But in the end, this only causes Enchantress to become a throwaway character, a trait that should never be awarded to the lead villain.

Negative reviews are always the hardest to write because I find it much easier to praise a movie than focus on what fell flat or didn’t work. That being said, some of the characters here are interesting but their developments feel restricted by the film’s shaky structure and pacing issues. I strongly believe any one of these characters could be in a film that focused just on him or her and they would be able to carry the weight. Hence, the best characters for me were Deadshot (Will Smith), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie).

Deadshot’s story arc feels the most complete thanks to a concrete (albeit brief) backstory, which helps ground his character. In second place was El Diablo whose arc, like Deadshot’s, feels finalized to a degree, which, again, is assisted by a good backstory that unfortunately doesn’t get revealed until act three. Lastly, Harley Quinn is a standout and Robbie looked like she was having a blast playing her. However, Quinn’s evolution seemed incomplete, and one issue I took with her storyline was how the abusive aspects of her relationship with the Joker were downplayed. Any casual Harley Quinn fan knows that the Quinn-Joker ship is seriously messed up. The Joker often subjects Quinn to physical, psychological, and verbal abuse, and while some of that is hinted at here, for the most part their pairing is played up as a romantic coupling of two criminal oddballs. But this is a misrepresentation and doesn’t reveal the extent of the relationship’s thorniness. Lastly, it’s only fair I give a mention to Katana as well who, despite being a cool character with an emotional backstory, is unfairly showcased. She’s presented as a bodyguard for Rick Flag, but she does get a brief moment where she goes off alone and tearfully promises the soul of her husband (which is trapped in her sword) that she will see him again if she should die. This was a rare, poignant moment and gave a tiny window into her character; but again, like most of the good parts of this film, it doesn’t last.

As a whole, the film feels unfinished and gives the impression that much of the original cut was left on the editing room floor, which makes me wonder what was omitted and why. (Just to note, I rented the film through iTunes and nothing indicated it was an extended version, so I assume I viewed the theatrical cut.) To be honest, I felt like Suicide Squad had potential, not in its finished state but hypothetically. Stories about antiheros are interesting as they usually bring up good questions regarding moral behavior, transformation, and redemption. While this film dabbles in these waters, it abandons them just as quickly as it sticks its toe in. In reality, this film could have gone one of three ways: an action flick filled with colorful characters, a shoot-em-up popcorn flick, or an introspective antihero piece. Any one of those directions would have been fine; but to its detriment, the film never makes up its mind and tries to combine all three, never fully fleshing any one of them out.

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Probably the only time the film deals at any length with the topic of flawed people is through it’s credits song, “Heathens,” by Twenty One Pilots. All my friends are heathens/take it slow, the singer says, affirming that broken people need a gentle touch. It’s worth nothing that the word heathen, while it can refer to someone who doesn’t believe in a particular religion or who engages in pagan beliefs, is also used as a term for “a person regarded as lacking culture or moral principles.” Hence, a heathen is an outsider. The singer then goes on to request, Please don’t make any sudden moves/You don’t know the half of the abuse, implying that it’s impossible to know another person’s circumstances, then assures us that flawed people surround us and we engage them every day (You’re lovin’ on the psychopath sitting next to you/You’re lovin’ on the murderer sitting next to you….You’ll have some weird people sitting next to you). While the song never explains whether it’s literally talking about killers and criminals, I tend to believe these terms are being used as metaphors for the moral damage everyday people can do to each other by hurting feelings or cutting others with their words.

I like how Adam Holz chooses to interpret these lyrics: Is the band literally suggesting that we might be among psychopaths and murderers and not know it? The song doesn’t answer that question definitively. But I suspect Joseph and Dun [of Twenty One Pilots] are speaking metaphorically here, provoking us to consider that shadows lurk in all of our hearts. Accordingly, their message is the same to all of us, no matter how broken (or not) we consider ourselves and others to be: Don’t be too quick to judge people who look or seem radically different. In this context, “Heathens” is the perfect theme song for Suicide Squad as it’s easy to see the shadow lurking in characters’ hearts, yet their shows of loyalty and even desire for good dreams displays that they are not entirely evil.

Now if only the movie itself made so deep a claim.
Disappointed head shake no way upset

Content Breakdown: Suicide Squad was given a PG-13 rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – Profanity usage is frequent at times, though not pervasive, and employs typical PG and PG-13 words, chiefly the sh-word. A single f-word is heard in the lyrics to the song “Gangsta” by Kehlani that plays over a scene.

ViolenceSuicide Squad is surprisingly violent, especially in its second act, and, despite a lack of gore, the movie skirts close to an R-rating due to the frequency of its violent action. Characters shoot, stab, slice, and bludgeon baddies. While there is no blood or gore (as the creatures simply crumble apart), such scenes are usually large-scale and carry on for several minutes. Elsewhere, we watch Deadshot engage in his trade as a hitman as he takes out a mark (though there is minimal blood). Other characters are forced into perilous situations and engage in fisticuffs, firefights, and the like. We learn how one character torched people alive, see another character shoot several innocent people in the head, witness the Joker prepare to torture Harley Quinn, among other moments of peril and violence. Also, the Squad’s members are injected with small explosives in their necks under the threat of death should they defect. One member does defect and is promptly killed (the character’s head explodes at a distance and we see the headless body though it isn’t gory). Lastly, some of the songs used in the film glorify criminal activity and/or contain references to drugs, violence, and torture (such as “Purple Lamborghini,” “Sucker for Pain,” and “Gangsta” which is about a woman who is “built for the abuse”). Overall, this film harbors a dark tone and has frequent, prolonged scenes of violent action that, while nearly bloodless, can still be intense.

Sexual Material – Most of the film’s sensuality (as there are no actual sex scenes or nudity) comes courtesy of Enchantress. First, we learn that June Moone (who Enchantress possesses) is in an unmarried relationship with Rick Flag and the two are rumored to have been sexually intimate (though nothing is ever shown other than a few kisses and they share a bed fully clothed). June is seen once, briefly, in a bra and panties as she’s lying unconscious on a stretcher. Enchantress herself is garbed in barely-there costumes that cover critical parts of her anatomy but little else. Enchantress’ kisses transform normal humans into monsters she employs as soldiers, and she performs a gyrating dance as she casts a spell in order to create a doomsday machine. Elsewhere, the Joker refers to Harley Quinn as the “fire in my loins, the itch in my crotch” and offers her to please another man who refuses her advances. Quinn herself is also sexualized as we see her changing clothes in front of ogling men (she’s wearing tiny shorts and a bra as she tugs a form-fitting t-shirt over her chest) and wears said shirt and skimpy “booty shorts” all throughout the film. Elsewhere, Quinn dances in a nightclub in a short, low-cut dress as she briefly grinds on another woman. Also, the Joker-Quinn dynamic is questionable as it is based upon control and abuse though there is only an undercurrent of that here. In several flashbacks, we see the Joker threaten to torture her and later ask if she would both live and die for him before she takes a dive into a vat of acid. Lastly, some songs used in the film have sexually-charged or sensual lyrics (such as “Come My Lady,” “Super Freak,” and “Over Here”).

Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe Suicide Squad stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):

Children – Not recommended due to the film’s story, dark tone, and content.

Older Children & Teens – Not really recommended unless teens are fans of anyone in the cast or like comic-book movies in general; however, the violent and sensual content should give parents and guardians some pause.

Young Adults & Adults – Not really recommended, but die-hard DC fans who want to follow the DC Extended Universe might still want to check it out. Otherwise, there isn’t much here to recommend to casually-interested viewers.

The Run-Down:
giveup bored tire
Overall, Suicide Squad is a cinematic mess as it’s a mishmash of tones and ideas, never settling on what it wants to be. In truth, it feels like a squandered story, something that had the potential to be good in theory, especially considering its motley crew of fun characters. But it never materializes into anything other than a sub-par superhero action flick.

Final Verdict:
happy star movies rating
(One Star out of Five)

Posted in Media

Movie Review – “U.S. Marshals”

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Introduction:
When I was a teenager, I was the world’s biggest Tommy Lee Jones fan. The first movie of his I remember seeing was Men in Black and I was impressed with the way he portrayed the character of Agent K. So, as teenagers tend to do, I started obsessing about seeing all of his movies (or at least as many as I could from 1997 to 1999 when I eventually outgrew my obsession). Eventually, I ended up watching The Fugitive (1993) and really enjoyed it; so when a sequel was released in theaters in 1998, I knew I had to see it. Back then, I thought U.S. Marshals was the coolest movie ever and Tommy Lee Jones couldn’t be any cooler! Recently, I was feeling nostalgic and decided to watch this movie after nearly 20 years. But is U.S. Marshals still the coolest movie ever? Be aware – some spoilers may be present throughout.

The Story: [from Rotten Tomatoes]: Tommy Lee Jones returns as United States Marshall Sam Gerard, the role that earned him an Academy Award, in this sequel to the 1993 blockbuster The Fugitive. Gerard has been assigned to escort a federal prisoner to a maximum security prison in Missouri. On the same flight is Mark Sheridan (Wesley Snipes), who has been arrested and charged with the murders of two Federal agents, though he insists he’s innocent. The plane is involved in an accident leading to a crash, and after helping to rescue some of the passengers, Sheridan escapes. The State Department informs Gerard that finding Sheridan and putting him back behind bars is a top priority, and Gerard sets out on his trail, with the very much uncalled-for assistance of eccentric FBI agent John Royce (Robert Downey Jr.). However, Gerard soon begins to wonder just how Sheridan became such an important man in the eyes of the government, while Sheridan is determined to find out who turned him in to the authorities.

My Take:
Allow me to go ahead and get this out of the way: is U.S. Marshals still cool to me now?
Don't Think So no way shake
That’s not me falling into the old-age cynicism trap – that’s just me seeing this movie after nearly two decades and with the viewing experience of having seen far better films in the same genre. So while I enjoyed watching this, it didn’t strike the same chord with me now as it did back then. And you know what? That’s okay!

I suspect most of us harbor the following sentiments when we revisit the media of our youth:
not as good bad um meh critic
Most movies and television shows you watched as a kid or a teen are probably not going to leave you with the same feelings of delight now that you’re an adult. But, again, that’s okay. Our viewing tastes and artistic discrimination should change as we age. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our childhood or teenage years’ favorite movies or television shows, but it does mean that what we thought was cool when we were 10, 12, 15, or 17 probably won’t be at the same level of coolness when we grow up.

That being said, I had fun watching U.S. Marshals this time around, and I suspect that’s what it was striving to be back in 1998 – an entertaining pre-summer popcorn flick. And if you don’t desire it to be anything but that, then you won’t be disappointed.

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The plot to U.S. Marshals is entertaining but admittedly paper thin and waxes predictable, especially in its second act. This is a movie where watching the characters do their thing takes precedence over the story they’ve been dropped into. Back in the day, I was new to this sort of movie, so the plot twists came as total surprises to me – but not so much now. The film seems like it’s trying to offer up a complex mystery plot but it’s as substantial as a bucket of movie popcorn. Sure, it’s fun, entertaining, and keeps you satisfied for a little while but, deep down, it’s just empty calories and doesn’t satiate no matter how badly you want it to.

As expected, U.S. Marshals stays true to its Fugitive roots by retaining some of the marshal characters from the first movie and introducing viewers to another man on the run. Here, Mark Sheridan (Wesley Snipes) is accused of murdering some federal agents. Sheridan is arrested but his prisoner transport plane crashes (echoing the infamous train crash in The Fugitive). This enables him to go on the lam to clear his name while U.S. Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) stays hot on his trail. But unlike last time when Gerard and his fellow marshals were free to do whatever they pleased to bring in their man, here they are shadowed by Special Agent John Royce (Robert Downey, Jr.). Thus, the film splits its time between Gerard uncovering the truth about Sheridan and Sheridan seeking to clear his name (or, in his words, be made “righteous”).

As stated, the plot is fluffy and forgettable but it does entertain. The characters avoid becoming stock figures as they manage to elicit enough sympathy to keep viewers invested. Likewise, the comradery between Gerard and his team of marshals is organic, and while their personalities clash at times, especially against Gerard’s hardheadedness, they are like family to one another. If one of them is hurt, attacked, or insulted, it’s as if the entire group was hurt, attacked, or insulted – that’s how tight their bond is and it’s a blast to watch. In the same way, most of the action set pieces are enjoyable. The aforementioned plane crash, for example, while trying to evoke a similar scene in The Fugitive, is intense and impressive in scale. Overall, the action scenes are tastefully inserted so the movie doesn’t feel too sparse nor overstuffed.

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However, the film tries a little too hard to run parallel to The Fugitive so it no longer feels like an homage but more like a mediocre clone. As stated, this movie’s story comes complete with yet another innocent man on the run, a large-scale disaster scene, sundry law enforcement figures who try to uncover the truth, and several showdowns where said fugitive and lawmen face off. While in The Fugitive these elements were presented as part of a fresh formula (though that was a remake of a 1960s television show of the same name), in U.S. Marshals it becomes a classic case of deja vu. I suppose if you had never seen The Fugitive, then these parallels would remain unknown. But for those of us who have seen the first movie, U.S. Marshals feels like it’s trying too hard to recapture a previously used formula but never quite hits the same notes.

That being said, I will give U.S. Marshals credit for not taking itself too seriously and maintaining a high entertainment value, especially in its first and third acts. Concerning the former, while this is a crime drama, it’s hard to take a story too seriously where, during Gerard’s introductory scene, we see him arresting neer-do-wells all while donning a chicken suit and delivering a KFC-inspired line in the gruffest, most deadpan way possible. It’s absurd, it’s hilarious, and it’s meant to be taken that way. I liked this introduction (or re-introduction, I suppose) to Gerard better than how we initially meet him in The Fugitive. Here, we instantly see two sides to his personality: one is that he’s clever, smart, and determined to see justice done, and the other is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously. In another way, this scene serves as a fairly accurate snapshot of the film as a whole – it’s serious but not too bleak as it knows when to crack a joke to ease the tension.

All of this contributes to the movie’s entertainment value as the plot itself is passable but it’s the characters who make this flick worth watching if only just for fun. As stated, the first and third acts are the movie’s strongest points, but most of the second act – especially its midsection – falls victim to the usual crime drama follow-the-clues type of plotting and incessant run-and-chase sequences. I started to get bored during this time in the movie, and to quote Sam Gerard, “I get cranky when I’m not having fun.” But the story does pick up near the end though the denouement is fairly easy to map out early on, especially if you’re no stranger to these types of films.

That being said, I feel like this was a case of having good actors in a mediocre film but doing their best with the material they were given. As a whole, the acting comes across as half-hearted at times, as if the actors realized they were in a semi-sinker and decided it wasn’t worth a full attempt. Collectively, it’s not a terrible effort but it’s definitely not a defining film for any of the top billed stars.

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This middling undercurrent is probably best exemplified by Robert Downey, Jr. who, in all fairness, I like as an actor. Here, he seemed disinterested and even checked out of character at times. Royce’s exchanges with Gerard offer some odd couple-esque moments that are genuinely funny, but essentially Royce is present to serve the role of the young, meddling whippersnapper. Downey does a passable job but this wasn’t a pivotal role. Likewise, anyone who has seen even a handful of these types of films will be able to spot the “surprise” regarding Royce’s character rather quickly. There are also moments when it feels (and looks) like Downey is physically present but not staying in character, as if he just walked in on the scene and decided to hang out, not interacting with anything or anyone except when delivering lines. In his defense, Downey is a better actor than this. One thing I keep in mind is that U.S. Marshals was filmed during a dark time in his life when Downey was dealing with some personal demons, so it’s possible he might not have been fully invested. (For the record, I’m glad Downey opted to get and stay clean. He’s very talented, so it’s great to see him taking advantage of the second chance he has been given.)

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In the same way, Wesley Snipes seems like he wants to get invested into his character as Mark Sheridan but never fully commits. To his credit, he at least appears more invested than Downey, and Sheridan’s chemistry with his girlfriend, Marie (Irene Jacob), seems genuine. Seeing as Sheridan is set up to be the protagonist, one basic trait I expect from all protagonists is that they have to be likable. Heroes shouldn’t be perfect but any hints of obnoxious airs or jerk-like tendencies get no points from me. Sheridan remains a likable guy who is determined to protect himself and clear his name. However, unlike Dr. Kimble in The Fugitive, Sheridan’s innocence isn’t apparent from the start; thus, it makes it difficult to side with him until later on. In the same way, Sheridan goes to questionable lengths to stay one step ahead of the law (something Dr. Kimble did his best not to do) but never intentionally tries to get innocent people hurt and even, as Gerard notes, goes out of his way not to kill people. Thus, he’s easy to eventually root for and Snipes delivers an average performance.

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Lastly, it’s only fair to scrutinize Tommy Lee Jones as Sam Gerard. Jones won an Oscar for the same role in The Fugitive and I believe that recognition was fairly warranted. While the same gruff charm is delivered here, it is more of the same from The Fugitive. Thus, if you loved Sam Gerard in The Fugitive, you will love him in U.S. Marshals. But if Gerard was not your favorite character in The Fugitive, then you won’t like him this time around either. Despite the lack of revised or evolved dynamic, I still enjoyed Gerard’s no-nonsense nature, dry wit, and smarts. He gives off the aura of not exactly being unapproachable, but you still better have a darn good excuse why you want to talk to him. To Gerard’s credit, he gets respect because he earns it, not because he demands it by acting like a jerk. In the same way, he takes his work personally as his fellow marshals are like his family and Gerard gladly assumes the role of the gruff, protective papa bear.

Likewise, we get a good “save the cat” moment that showcases a heart beneath Gerard’s rough, weathered exterior. (As a sidebar, the term “save the cat” comes from a book of the same name by Blake Snyder and refers to an inconsequential scene depicting the main character doing something to “save” someone or something, thus casting the character in a favorable light.) During the plane crash when the rest of the officers swim to safety, Gerard stays behind, at great risk to himself, to set the prisoners free as they are shackled and unable to escape. He works tirelessly, freeing the men by hand, until he’s forced to give up his efforts. Even while urged by others to save himself and leave the prisoners, Gerard views these men as human beings and refuses to willingly abandon them to a watery grave. This shows that, deep down, Gerard upholds human decency and mercy over justice: while it would have been easy to let these men die (they are prisoners, after all), Gerard tries to save as many as he can. Overall, it’s a great moment of showing us, not telling us, about the heart of his character.

However, Gerard slightly devolves in this movie as he is, at his core, a cerebral character, thinking first and shooting last. But in U.S. Marshals, he gets reduced to an action movie star where thinking is a secondary trait and running and shooting are the primary focus. Gerard is at his best when he’s mulling things over and thinking his way through a problem, but for much of the movie, he’s confined to running around, doing stunts, and barking lines. That’s not to say older actors can’t be in action films. By way of example, Colin Firth assumed the role of a highly intuitive spy who wasn’t afraid to get his hands bloody in Kingsman: The Secret Service and he excelled at it. So perhaps it comes down to the actor and his personality, temperament, and/or feelings towards a project. In U.S. Marshals, Jones doesn’t seem like he feels entirely comfortable being an action star but he makes an effort. In truth, he seems more at ease delving into Gerard as a person, showcasing his wit and intellect, rather than proving he can run, shoot, and jump with the best of them. Thus, his approach to this character is at its best in the film’s quieter moments and at its weakest when he’s participating in run-and-shoot sequences.

To be fair, it seems like Jones plays the same type of character in every movie. When I was a teenager, he was my favorite actor without question, but over the years he’s been replaced by other gents who I feel present more versatility. But he’s by no means on my no-watch list and there’s nothing that would stop me from checking out some of his more recent movies. To his credit, Jones looks like he’s having fun (or at least trying to have fun) in this role much like he did in The Fugitive. I wouldn’t call this a case of lightening striking twice but it’s a watchable performance. However, it feels more like a redux than a remix.

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As it stands, U.S. Marshals as a whole feels like it’s trying to repackage The Fugitive akin to wrapping a gift by reusing scraps of old wrapping paper – the content is technically new but the veneer is clearly recycled. It’s so strange to me now that, next to Men in Black, U. S. Marshals was my second favorite movie as a teenager. I honestly have no idea why as a good portion of this movie is the usual manhunt plot trope and waxes a bit insipid, especially during the second act. However, it’s not a terrible movie as it’s mostly entertaining and even ends on a smile-worthy, light-hearted note, which is rare for its genre. Overall, while I wouldn’t place this movie among my favorites anymore, I was still glad I checked it out if for nothing more than to relive one of my favorite teenage years flicks.

Content Breakdown: U.S. Marshals was given a PG-13 rating but my assessment of its content is as follows:
Language – Profanity usage is frequent but not pervasive and chiefly employs PG and PG-13-level words, including religious exclamations. One character also spouts off a single f-word.

Violence – Most of the violence is confined to police-style violence, chiefly shootouts and images of gunshot wounds. One character is shot and dies, and this scene is rather drawn out as we watch the character expire on screen despite being given medical treatment. Crime scene photos of bodies with bloody bullet wounds and grainy, black and white security camera videos of a shooting are shown at different times throughout the movie but nothing ever turns gory. Elsewhere, a quick shot reveals a male body in a shower (from the chest up, so there is no nudity) with a slit neck, but this scene lasts only a second or two. Also, one character is physically tormented by another character while lying prone in bed. Lastly, the plane crash is a very intense sequence that involves explosions and peril. During these moments, one character suffers a heart attack (it’s never revealed if the character survives or not) and other characters are implied to have drowned (but their bodies are never shown).

Sexual Material – Essentially none. In a quick scene, a marshal glimpses several bikini-clad women being interviewed on a television show before Gerard tells him to turn it off. Elsewhere, two officers barge in on Marie while she is changing clothes in a dressing room, but she’s covered up and all we see is a portion of her back. Lastly, Sheridan and Marie kiss a few times but nothing ever becomes sexual or even sensual.

Recommended Audiences: In my opinion, I believe U.S. Marshals stacks up this way (note that just because something isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):

Children – Not recommended due to the film’s story and content.

Older Children & Teens – Somewhat recommend, especially as a relatively clean action/suspense film for teens who are  starting to get their feet wet into the genre. Likewise, teen fans of Robert Downey, Jr. (who portrays Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe) might be interested as this reflects some of his earlier work.

Young Adults & Adults – Somewhat recommended, especially if you’re nostalgic for some forgotten late-1990s popcorn flicks. Likewise, fans of the 1993 movie The Fugitive might want to give it a view as well as anyone who is a fan of the cast in general.

The Run-Down:
I don't know shrug meh
Overall, U.S. Marshals is one of these movies that doesn’t look better in hindsight. When I was a teenager and saw this for the first time, I was a newbie to the whole police-themed action/suspense thriller genre, so I thought it was great. But age and experience with better films have caused me to see this movie differently so it’s more of a mediocre attempt than a jaw-dropping masterpiece. That doesn’t mean U.S. Marshals is bad and I have good memories associated with it. In the end, I think that’s how it can best be appreciated – not as a work of incredible cinema or storytelling but as a solidly entertaining way to pass the time.

Final Verdict:
happy star movies ratinghappy star movies rating
(Two Stars out of Five)