Movie: Tomb Raider

"Tomb Raider"

Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Hong Kong. If she survives this perilous adventure, it could be the making of her, earning her the name tomb raider.

If you’re a video game fan, it’s highly likely that WB’s reboot of Tomb Raider‘s film franchise is something you might enjoy. Unless you’re a Tomb Raider fan. Then, it’s either you will love the film they produced–or immensely dislike it.

I can’t say I’m a gamer; and although I am familiar with the Tomb Raider franchise (both the games and the Angelina Jolie films), I can’t say I’m a fan. But, that said, I did enjoy this new iteration of Tomb Raider for the thrills it provided. All I had to do was shut off all logical and critical thinking, because that’s when the problems come in.

Warner Brothers’ Tomb Raider plays off like a video game. Like a Tomb Raider video game, actually. You have puzzles, you have bad guys, you have adventures, and you have heroine Lara Croft hanging off edges and climbing things. Over and over. Unfortunately it also has something the Tomb Raider franchise usually don’t allow: accountability.

The entire plot of the film hinges on the fact that Lara Croft’s father obsesses over a piece of Japanese myth. And the film only moves because of Lara’s drive to find her father. Everything that goes wrong afterwards is because of their accountability. And while it is good for heroes to be held accountable for their actions, it is extremely frustrating for a moviegoer to have a heroine who causes the film’s conflicts in the first place.

I’m sure the film’s writers did their best to make the film grounded, and for Lara Croft to not come out of the movie a two-dimensional caricature of her video game persona. On top of the brains and brawn that was inherent in the character, they also gave Lara heart and flaws. But it’s one thing for a character to overcome their flaws to save the world, and a completely different thing for the character’s flaws to be the reason the world needs saving in the first place. And there lies the one reason I can’t fully get on board with this new Tomb Raider film:

Lara Croft’s flaws don’t make her human–they make her a problem.

If you’re not the type of moviegoer who scrutinizes plot and character details though, Tomb Raider is still a fun action-adventure film. Roar Uthaug does a great job making the film feel like a video game–in a very good way. Alicia Vikander is no Angelina Jolie–which is also a good thing–and delivers a Lara Croft unlike any other.

Bottom line: Tomb Raider is a good enough film with lots of exhilarating action sequences, but I’ll probably pass on a sequel if they make one.

Big thanks, by the way, to Chris Cantada for inviting me to the premiere. Watch out for his review soon on his Cantada Force Reviews channel on YouTube.

Advertisements

Book: They Both Die at the End

"They Both Die at the End"

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure–to live a lifetime in a single day.

What do you do when you’re told you’re going to die within the day? It’s a great question, and I love that They Both Die at the End tries to answer it in multiple ways. We have two main characters that are very different from each other, who then fate brings together to help them grow. I love that author Adam Silvera doesn’t go for the saccharine and goes deep into thoughts that most people probably have had, about what to do when confronted with the idea that they are about to die.

I love the book… but I’m not in love with it. Probably because it veered into romance territory near the end.

Spoiler alert?

I’m not going to say much. It’s just– I thought the book was amazing, and the way Silvera handled the multiple points-of-view was particularly outstanding. I love the way he threaded the stories together, and how passing characters in the beginning make quite an impact in the latter chapters.

But the love story felt out of place for me.

I understand that the characters would grow to care for each other. That they would grow to love each other. And there were hints throughout the book about the eventual… relationship development. It was not sprung on us. I just felt like, if the book really wanted to go there, they could have prepared the readers better. Or have been more upfront about it. As it was… the romance in the latter part of the book made me like it less.

Still– I do still love the book enough to recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a great story. Maybe other readers don’t (or won’t) feel the same way I do about the love story in the end.

Book: Revelations (Book Two of the Naermyth Series)

"Revelations"

It’s been six months after the events in Capiz. Athena fears her developing powers, knowing it’s only a matter of time before she loses control.

Meanwhile, the tension between Naermyth and humanity is growing. Macky believes Mamon is again engaged in shady operations. When Athena is sent to Intramuros to investigate, she triggers a chain of events that pit her against an entity far more malevolent than anything she’s ever encountered.

Full disclosure: I didn’t reread the first Naermyth book before cracking this book open. I wanted to see how this book holds up, considering it’s been a decade since Naermyth, the book it’s following, came out. That, and because I didn’t really have the time.

Good news: it’s easy to jump into the action. Although Revelations references a lot of events from the first book, it also provides enough context to make sure the readers understand what’s going on. I do have to admit that I got confused about how characters were related to everyone–but that was only in the beginning. Author Karen Francisco gave each character, especially the supporting ones, a broad enough stroke that you can pinpoint who they are in relation to our heroine.

And now comes the bad part–

Although my memory of Athena Dizon as she was in the first book is hazy, I still prefer her there than who she has become in Revelations. There’s a good chance this is nostalgia talking, but I thought Francisco handled Athena’s stoic nature better in Naermyth. In this book, I felt like the author relied a little too much on the reader being privy to Athena’s thoughts to justify her actions.

And speaking of being privy to Athena’s thoughts– I have a bone to pick with Revelations being in first-person. I admire how Francisco handled foreshadowing, and planting things to make certain twists not come left-of-field… But it made Athena’s character weak. We establish that she’s smart and savvy, that she notices a lot of things–and because the book is in first person, she takes note of Francisco’s planted plot devices too. So when the twists finally come, and Athena is taken aback, it makes her look stupid. She already noticed the discrepancies. Why wasn’t she able to put two and two together? (This was also my concern with Pierce Brown’s Morning Star.)

Athena’s character and the first-person perspective aside though, Revelations does show Karen Francisco’s growth as a writer. This book had better plotting and pacing, there’s a better sense of urgency and gravity, and most importantly, although this book is double the size of the first book–it’s an even faster read.

Francisco has improved exponentially as a story-teller. Her editors, on the other hand, might want to take another pass at the book, because some of the typos were jarring.

So was Revelations a good sequel to Naermyth? Yes. Was its release worth the wait? Yes. Does it end on another cliffhanger? Well… the fact that they’re calling it the second book off a series should answer your question.

All I’m hoping for now is that Francisco and Visprint don’t let another decade pass before the next book comes out.

(Disclaimer: A decade didn’t pass between the two books. I was exaggerating. But it has been almost eight years since Naermyth came out.)

Book: Through the Window

"Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window"

This beautifully produced book recounts the journey of the show from its inception nearly a decade ago to winning six Tony Awards in 2017, including Best Musical. Filled with interviews with the extraordinary cast and creative team, original photography by acclaimed theater photographer Matt Murphy, and the libretto, annotated by book writer Steven Levenson and songwriting team Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window gives readers an intimate look at this deeply personal, yet profoundly universal, musical.

This book does more than tell the story behind Dear Evan Hansen. It also explores the many provocative ideas and themes at the heart of this contemporary story, and examines the powerful emotional connection forged by thousands of audience members, listeners, and fans to this groundbreaking original musical.

I didn’t know I was going to love Dear Evan Hansen. Prior to seeing the show, I was ready to be disappointed with it. When things are hyped, there’s a tendency for me to set up too high an expectations. So I went in to see the show with the lowest possible expectation. And I was just whelmed.

A little disclaimer: the matinee I caught didn’t have Ben Platt. And although my eyes did water during two of the latter numbers, my overall takeaway from the musical was that Evan Hansen wasn’t a likeable character. So I don’t understand all the love for him. And then I started watching the YouTube videos.

Here’s the thing: to set up the low expectations, I purposely didn’t watch any video or listen to any of the songs from the production. My only exposure to Dear Evan Hansen were the good word-of-mouth, and the Tony Awards performance featuring Ben Platt. It wasn’t after I saw the show that I started scouring the internet for other performances. Because I really wanted to see why people loved the titular character.

Ben Platt was very good. But saying that would mean the actor I saw, Michael Lee Brown, was bad… Or, just good. Brown was just as good as Platt. He had great control over his voice, and his acting was exactly the same as Platt’s. But something about his performance rubbed me the wrong way. And I thought it was just the character of Evan Hansen that I couldn’t connect to.

But then I read the published Dear Evan Hansen book. Not the one I’m going to be writing about. The other one; the smaller one. With just a foreword and the libretto. And I fell in love with Evan Hansen’s character and the mistakes he makes throughout the musical. So I became even more confused about why the musical didn’t resonate with me when I saw it.

It wasn’t until this book, Through the Window, that I realized the reason why. Evan Hansen was tailored for Ben Platt. His movements, his mannerisms, even the way he dresses–it’s all Ben Platt. And anyone else who would do the role, who would inherit the tics and tirades? They’re never going to be fully Evan Hansen unless they’re allowed to make the role different.

That’s not meant to be a dig. But it is an illuminating fact that I gleaned from Through the Window. This book opens up the world of Dear Evan Hansen from the moment it was conceptualized to the time it won awards on the Tonys. It shows us the decisions and the missteps that shaped the show into what it became, and it’s educational.

Through the Window is a must read, not just for fans of Dear Evan Hansen, but for anyone who wants to make a career in theater–whether on stage or behind the scenes. The book allows its readers to get insight on the script, the songs, the direction, the costume, all the way to the decisions the actors make from the workshop to the opening performance.

Most importantly, this book bares the creative team’s thought-process on the show. And that allows for us to appreciate the material and its actors more. Or, in my case, it makes it clear why a certain actor–no matter how good he is–can make a character so very different just because he is required to be the same exact character the main actor is portraying. Do you get what I mean?

Now, if the behind-the-scenes and the road-map-to-Broadway isn’t your cup of tea; the annotations from writer Steven Levenson and the team of Pasek and Paul are a joy to read. And Matt Murphy’s photos are absolutely gorgeous. The photos alone are worth the price of the book, to be honest.

I fell in love with Dear Evan Hansen because of the libretto. Through the Window helped me appreciate the production and the creative process behind the show even more. If you’re a fan and you have the extra money, this book is a definite must-buy–because it truly is a beautifully-produced masterpiece.

Book: Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat

"Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat"

A world that’s full of mystery and wonder. This is the world of Andong Agimat.

Yeah, the book synopsis doesn’t really give much away–but then again, Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a graphic novel. If it had a normal synopsis, it might have given the whole story away.

Yes, that’s a dig on how very short Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is (and most other local graphic novels).

The thing about Arnold Arre is that he is a master at creating these fascinating worlds based on what we know and on what is real, mixing the two to produce something that’s familiar yet new, shockingly present yet timeless. It was apparent in Mythology Class and in Trip to Tagaytay, but it’s on a completely different level here in Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat.

For something that was produced in 2006, this book still holds up really well. I credit this to the fact that Arnold Arre’s works are always grounded on human emotions. The new edition’s foreword has a lot to say about the author being unsatisfied, and how that underlines the story that the book is telling. But I would beg to differ. I think Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is all about fear: The fear of power. The fear of loss. The fear of excelling. The fear of being ordinary.

The fear of the inability to change.

Our main character, Ando, has a very checkered past; one that he’s trying to atone for, and feels that he will never leave behind. His past is what pushes him to be a hero–but it’s also what haunts his every moment, waking or otherwise.

Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a study on that fear–of never being more than what one has already become. Even after all the heroics, Ando never feels he is worthy to be a hero. So he doesn’t try to be one. That is, until he’s forced to.

This is where my complaint comes in. Arnold Arre creates this world with a very rich mythology: you have people yearning to be special, and being given the opportunity to do so at the risk of losing their innocence; you have an epic romance that spans lifetimes–and one that is more recent and more hurting; you have villains that have layers upon layers… And we get one rescue story out of this very rich world that the author created.

I don’t know if it’s the soap opera writer in me talking, but I felt cheated off the possible growth and development the characters could’ve had. I felt like the layers he gave the villains could have been explored more, while going into the backgrounds and drive of the protagonists at the same time.

I felt unsatisfied, to borrow a word from the book’s foreword. And it’s not something I want to feel after reading an exceptionally good book. Because Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a very good book–

It’s just also frustratingly short. It ends as quickly as it begins, leaving you wanting for more. And you will want more. So I guess that means I will only recommend this book to people who like getting hurt by their favorite books. Because this book will hurt you. And it will also quickly become a favorite. So if you’re a fan of being left wanting, then pick this book up. If you’re not… you might still want to pick the book up, and then join me in trying to find a way to get Arnold Arre to revisit this world again.

Book: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

"Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda"

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly-gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an e-mail falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been e-mailing with, will be jeopardized.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his e-mail correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year had suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out–without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Would you believe it took a movie trailer to sell me on Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda? That said, I wasn’t even aware about this book’s existence until I saw the trailer. I really should schedule more trips to the bookstore. Then again, I should finish the books that are still waiting to be read first.

But first, let’s talk about the book that I have read:

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a good book; it’s well-written, well-paced, and the characters are not caricatures. Then again, that’s a given–the book did win an award from the American Library Association. So it also shouldn’t be a surprise that the book is all kinds of great.

Not just one kind. All kinds.

See: LGBT stories are not usually for everyone. Yes, a lot of us can relate to the feeling of being alone, of being different, or being excluded–but at the end of it all, we don’t have the same problems. We don’t need to come out or have to endure taunts, teases, and bullying. But what’s great about this particular book is that, while it has the taunts, and teases, and bullying–it also has something that other LGBT stories struggle with: a dilemma that non-LGBT people can relate with. In this case: risking a possible happy ending to do what is right.

Simon is a not-so-openly gay teenager who is in love with someone still in the closet. That’s not something cis teens have to worry about–not even when they partners are of a different race, or a different age group. But the genius behind this book is in its premise: a teenager risk ruining a potential happily-ever-after by standing up to his blackmailer.

If you take out Simon’s gender preference, the story still holds. Sure, you’re still going to be reading about a gay teenager and his life–but the core emotion that pushes the story forward: that of wanting a happy ending and the fear of losing it is not gender-specific. It’s something that speaks to everyone. And that’s brilliant.

I loved the parents that Author Becky Albertalli gave our protagonist. They’re fun, but they also know when to draw the line. They’re a little too ideal, sure, but who wants to read about kids fighting with their parents? If the main premise revolved around that, why not–but when you’re reading a love story that has nothing to do with parental approval, adding a layer of disapproving parents can get pretty exhausting.

Simon, the character, can get infuriating at times. But I think that’s by design. He’s imperfect, marred by lack of experience and self-awareness–and it’s one of the reasons why he falls into the blackmailer’s hands in the first place, and the book addresses this.

His sexuality is treated as a matter of fact; there are no explorations, no questioning, and debating– The book establishes his homosexuality as a norm and quickly moves on to the premise of the novel: which is the blackmail, and Simon not wanting to lose his happy ending.

Honestly, reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is very refreshing. Sure, it still tackles characters having to come out, but other than that–it reads like other young adult romance novels. Two people fall in love, a problem presents itself, and a challenge is overcome for them to end up together. It’s an LGBT book that treats the LGBT like they should be treated: normally.

So I’m definitely putting this book on my list of recommended readings. And I’m also definitely looking forward to watching how it gets adapted into a movie. Because the trailer, as I already mentioned, is so good it got me to buy the book its movie is based on.

Book: Voices in the Theater

"Voices in the Theater"

Ever since her grandmother died, Samantha Davidson has been carrying a secret: She can hear voices–other people’s thoughts, some from the living, some from the dead.

Plucked from her roots and transported to another country, estranged from her family and friends, Sam joins a pioneering club in her new school that investigates paranormal activities.

As they examine the mystery behind a haunted theater inside the university, Sam starts to hear voices from those that are no longer earthbound.

Will she heed their voices as they accuse her of a dark secret she has buried deep in the past? Or will she surrender to the light offered by newfound allies and a love that caught her by surprise?

Will the many voices drown out the one voice she has long suppressed? Will she listen?

If I’m to be objective, there is nothing wrong with A.S. Santos’s Voices in the Theater. The plot is good and well-paced, and although some decisions made by the characters make me want to tear my hair out, I understand their choices are organic and not pushed by the hand of the author. There is really nothing bad to be said about the book–

But I still didn’t like it.

Here’s the thing: Voices in the Theater is marketed to be a horror novel. From its back synopsis, to its book cover, to the first few chapters– The story is clearly set-up to be a horror novel that deals with ghosts and unresolved issues. And I was fully on board with that. What I didn’t like was the sudden turn for the religious.

I mean, I completely understand having religious characters. The setting is the Philippines, characters are bound to be non-practicing Christians at the very least. And you can’t really take out religion when you’re dealing with ghosts and the afterlife. They come hand in hand.

Still, the book presents the main character as religiously neutral. Our entry point into the supernatural is science-based. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. And I felt like the story, and the writer, forced the main character into a religion by the end of the book.

The thing is: I would totally understand the religious deus ex machina had there been more visual cues from the way the book was published or presented. Going back to what happens in the story, there’s really nothing there that explicitly says the book wasn’t going to go the religious note. And aside from the first few chapters that established the back story of main character Samantha, the rest of the book does establish the necessity of faith.

But the turn to the religion still threw me off.

It could just be my fault for expecting something else. For wanting something else. It’s just… I’m not the book’s target market. And I wish I knew this fact before I bought the book. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a warning before I delved into the book expecting a horror story. That could have spelled the difference in how I received the novel after finishing it.