It Follows (2015) | Movie Review

Genre: Thriller, Horror
Release Date: March 13, 2015 (limited)
Runtime:  1 hr. 40 min.
MPAA Rating: R

★★★★☆

Another movie from my Most Anticipated Movies of 2015 list, which by the way, hasn't been going very well. Now, I've mostly given up on horror films at this point, but the trailer for It Follows looked promising and slightly different to what Hollywood has had to offer throughout the past few years. The independent film vibe and the strong 80's horror feel of this movie were very obvious from the trailer, and that's something I couldn't pass up.

In a small town, Michigan, Jay (played by Maika Monroe) is your regular college girl enjoying the last warm days in the beginning of autumn. However, after having sex with her boyfriend for the first time, the troubles begin: the guy tells Jay he passed something on to her (?!), and that now it will follow her unless she passes it on to someone else. Yes, my friends, it's a sexually transmitted SOMETHING that wants to kill whoever it's following. After that it will follow the person who passed it along, and so on, down the line. The boyfriend, of course, disappears, so Jay and her friends set out to find him and try to figure out what's going on.

Despite the premise sounding a little odd, it actually works really well. It Follows is very well done, and it's a great homage to 80's horror, complete with a brilliant, haunting retro soundtrack. Every shot of this film is beautifully crafted, and while it's not a story you've seen before, it feels comfortingly familiar. Basically, the style of this film is excellent. It doesn't rely on your regular jump scares either (though there are a couple of them)—it builds tension, and it will have you looking over your shoulder after it's done. However, I didn't find it particularly scary. Sure, there is some disturbing imagery, and overall the film is very creepy, but it's not really what I would call scary—I would say it's more of a thriller than a horror film. It's not a bad thing, I actually prefer that, but if you're someone who expects to be screaming and jumping the whole time—this isn't your movie.

The young talent in It Follows is very impressive—I felt like everyone did a very good job. The characters themselves aren't extremely developed, but for the most part they make sense and they aren't flat. The only problem I had with this film was that it kind of fizzled towards the end. it almost seemed as if the writers weren't sure how to wrap it up. It may have been their intention to have the movie end the way it did, and it IS consistent with the overall mood, but I still had that unsatisfied feeling of "that's it??" at the end. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend It Follows to anyone looking for a creepy old-school thriller—it actually FEELS like a classic. Independent film wins again! Learn from this, Hollywood!

Have you seen It Follows? What did you think of the ending?


Five Things Friday: Classics I Should Have Read

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Time for another Five Things Friday post, and as I promised in my last one, today I'm sharing the top 5 gaps in my reading history. I've decided to focus on classics, and specifically the ones I already own (because I have every intention of reading them). I actually love classics, but lately my reading has been hijacked by modern books (as you have most likely noticed, if you've been reading my blog). I'm not going to go over what these books are about in this post because I feel like most people have either read them, seen film/TV adaptations, or have heard enough about them to know what they are. So, here are the classics I'm most ashamed to admit I haven't read:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Page Count: 416
First Published: January 28, 1813

I actually tried reading this one in my late teens, but here's the thing: at that point I had recently moved to the US, and although I spoke English fluently, reading a classic in English was a whole different beast. As a result, I gave up after a few chapters—it was simply difficult to process for me. However, this book is loved by so many people that I just have to read it, especially since I own this gorgeous leather-bound edition of it.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Page Count: 520
First Published: October 16, 1847

Considering the fact that I've seen two film adaptations of this, I feel like the reason I haven't read this yet is because I know the story really well. Still, I need to make time to experience the actual book—watching films is never the same thing. I think it's a novel I would really enjoy, since I always hear people talk about how Jane's voice and point of view are very interesting and intelligent. I don't think I've read many classics written in first-person narrative either. 

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Page Count: 1296
First Published: 1869

Not reading this book feels like a personal failure for me: not only is this a classic of epic proportions, but it's also something I REALLY should have read in school (as someone who grew up next door to Russia). I definitely intend to read it within the next few years, but the size of this novel intimidates me, as you can imagine. Now, you can see my editions are of course in Russian, but if you're curious to pick this up make sure to pay attention to the translation you're getting. Translations can make or break a book, especially a classic. After doing some research and reading some samples I would recommend going with one by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (there are plenty of editions to pick from)—it flows well and seems to retain the original language quality. Side note: it seems that there are P&V translations for quite a few Russian novels, if you're feeling adventurous.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Page Count: 272
First Published: April 10, 1925

I honestly do not know how I managed to skip this one. I have heard some conflicting opinions about F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing style, but after looking through a few pages (out of curiosity) it looks great to me so far. Does anyone else do that, by the way? Skim a few pages of the newly-bought book just to see what's up? Anyways, I'm also curious how I will feel about Baz Luhrmann's movie adaptation after reading the book—I really enjoyed the style of it, but I know this movie upset a lot of people. 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Page Count: 317
First Published: 1955

Finally, I think this is the most controversial title on the list that still sparks heated debates. I'm not going to lie, the concept of this book makes me pretty uncomfortable (as it should), and that's why I haven't picked it up yet. However, I do wonder about what the author had to say on the subject and why this book has been endlessly censored, banned, and loved throughout the years.

Have you read these classics? What books are you ashamed to admit to not reading?


Insurgent (2015) | Movie vs. Book Review

This past weekend the movie adaptation of Insurgent came out in theatres, and of course I had to check it out. After the Divergent movie turned out way better than expected, I was hopeful this one would turn out to be pretty good as well. The critics vs. audiences gap for Insurgent on Rotten Tomatoes was baffling, but that also happened with the first movie, so I thought I may be pleasantly surprised once again. Sadly, I have to side with the critics on this one.

So, let's talk about the changes from book to movie. My confusion is about who was this film made for. It doesn't have the quality to interest non-readers of the trilogy, and it's simply confusing—watching people review the first movie, and now this one confirms it. As for fans of the books—they want to see the books they read translated onto the screen. Changes here and there are interesting, but when your movie is borderline "inspired by events" the core fans aren't going to be happy either. I wasn't the biggest fan of Insurgent as a book (though I still enjoyed it) because it felt a bit chaotic, but compared to the movie it actually looks better to me now. There are MANY differences between the two, so I'm not going to point out every single one—I'm going to go over the things that stood out to me the most.

SPOILERS ahead if you haven't read or watched Insurgent

  1. The "mystery box": I honestly thought this was entirely unnecessary. It worried me in the trailer, and it turned out just as cheesy as I thought it would. If you've read the books, you know there is no mystery box that needs to be opened by a unique and individual snowflake via passing a bunch of tests. Not only does it look reminiscent of the stones from The Fifth Element, but it kind of has the same idea of the ONE person making it work. There were plenty of things in the book that could have made it into the script instead of this.
  2. The relationship between Tris and Four: these two do a lot of fighting in the book, and it's not meaningless. Four thinks Tris is reckless and thinks only about herself, so he continuously tries to fight her on this. He even goes as far as saying, if she doesn't stop acting this way, their relationship will be over. Tris leaving to turn herself in is pretty much betrayal on her part. And speaking of complicated relationships, don't even get me started on what's going on between her and Christina. All of this is barely touched on in the movie.
  3. Jeanine's Death: on the subject of stripping meaning from actions, here is another example. In the movie her death is the last shot of the film, complete with a cheesy "last words" line, and she's killed by Evelyn for what seems like no reason other than a power trip.  Of course, in the book Jeanine is killed by Tori during the attack on the Erudite as an act of revenge (Jeanine killed Tori's brother for being Divergent)
  4. Marcus... where's Marcus?: Not in this film, that's for sure. Marcus plays a pretty significant role in the book, but in the movie his screen time / contribution is next to none.
  5. Tris has no problem with guns: poor Tris, traumatized but her parents' death and by killing Will, refuses to pick up a gun in the book. In the movie this problem doesn't exist.
  6. The Divergent scanner: that one is wrong on so many levels. First of all, you know this doesn't exactly fit with the way things turn out in Allegiant, if you've read it. Second, the percentage of divergence is absurd. And finally, what about people who chose a faction despite their test? This scanner shows the faction they belong to, based on their face (LOL), but as you may remember from the first movie the choice of which faction to join is still up to the teens. They can go against the test. This scanning device is ridiculous.

In general, there is a ton of plot left out in the movie adaptation, and for some reason it's replaced by the hunt for THE ONE who can open the mystery box with the message. Why? I have no idea. There is not a single change that I thought made the story better, and I'm officially losing interest in Allegiant  (especially since it's split into two movies). 

Have you seen Insurgent? What did you think?

If you'd like to know what I thought of the movie apart from the changes, check out my review below!


Lock In by John Scalzi | Book Review

Genre: Mystery, Science Fiction
Page Count: 336
Release Date: August 26, 2014

★★★★☆

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In the near future, a highly contagious virus sweeps through the world. The lucky ones experience flu-like symptoms and move on with their lives. The less lucky ones face stage two—meningitis, which can cause serious damage. Stage three hits a very small percentage of the victims, and it's my personal idea of hell: being fully conscious and aware, but unable to move or respond to any kind of stimulus—lock in. Thanks to the advances in technology there are a couple of options for those locked in: they can either use an integrator (control another human's body and experience the world that way), or use an android (referred to as a "threep") to continue interacting with the outside world. Our main character, Chris Shane, is an FBI agent investigating a peculiar crime scene, but he is also locked in and using a threep.

This was my first foray into John Scalzi's work, and I have to say I'm off to a very good start. This novel grew on me the further in I got, and the writing style is very smart and intelligent. There are a lot of details, and definitely some very interesting ideas. For instance, Lock In presents a very interesting argument as far as cure vs. adjustment goes. On one hand, you have people advocating for a "cure", thinking those who are locked in want to be brought back. But many of the afflicted (referred to as "Hadens") are actually pretty comfortable in their own community: they have ways to access the world, but they can also spend time in this virtual reality world, free from any bounds. To them, there isn't much to "come back" to.

I also thought the choice of a threep for a body was an interesting one. They are made to look like C3PO (and that's where the term comes from), which is reminiscent of a human body, but also much more durable and provide the used with certain technological advantages useful in everyday life. At the same time any crime against a threep is treated the same way as a crime against a human. There are legal and social details, which I'm not going to get into, that make this futuristic world seem real. When it comes to the integrators (the humans who allow themselves to be controlled by a Haden) there are psychological and physical implications to consider.

My main complaint about the novel has to do with the characters themselves—it took me a while to really care about anybody. Sure, the crime investigation was interesting to follow, and I was invested in the story lines, but with the exception of Shane's parter (whom I warmed up to eventually) I never really felt connected to anyone. The only other issue I had was with the ending—I thought it was a little too neat. This is a minor problem though, since I did like the way everything wrapped up.

Something you may want to know about is that there is a companion novella called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome. I read this after I read Lock In and immediately wished I read it first. As you can imagine, this is a short background for the virus told through multiple perspectives. The thing is, I found myself a bit confused for about a third of Lock In, and most of my confusion had to do with details about Haden's Syndrome—all of my questions would have been answered if I read the novella first. It's definitely not something you absolutely NEED to read, but if you're the type of person who likes to know as much as possible I would actually recommend reading the novella first. 

Overall, I really enjoyed Lock In and John Scalzi's writing style. I would definitely read more of his work, and I'm curious about a couple of his other novels. Suggestions are very welcome!

Have you read Lock In? Do you have a favorite Scalzi book?


Five Things Friday: Movies I Should Have Watched

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On this blog and on my YouTube channel, I often talk about books I've already read and movies/shows I've already watched. Sometimes I also talk about things I'm planning to read and watch. However, there is a dark secret of a list only a couple of people know about that consists of a large number of films that I REALLY should have seen by now, especially as someone who publicly voices their opinion about movies. Oh, and don't worry, I have an even longer one for books that I will talk about in a different post. Today, I thought I would share five titles I'm most embarrassed about not watching, and I'm really hoping I'm not alone.

Star Wars (1977-1983)

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy
Runtime:  various 
MPAA Rating: PG

"Wait WTF?! What kind of Science Fiction fan are you, Marianna?!" One who hasn't seen ANY of the Star Wars movies, apparently. I vaguely remember them being on TV when I was growing up on a few occasions, but I just never sat down to watch them. It's weird, I know. Especially since I'm unreasonably excited about the new one coming out this year, and find myself inexplicably drawn to Star Wars memorabilia. I may also own a pair of Darth Vader Vans (because they're awesome). As you may be able to tell by the year span, I'm talking about the original trilogy here. I haven't heard many good things about the prequel trilogy, and though I still will probably watch it eventually, the originals are my priority.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime:  2 hr. 34 min.
MPAA Rating: R

Well, here's another cult classic that I somehow missed out on. I told you, my list is embarrassing. I'm actually a big fan of Quentin Tarantino's work, so it's surprising that I still haven't gotten around to watching Pulp Fiction. The thing is, I've caught parts of it on TV so many times that I kind of "get the gist of it", so I almost feel like I've actually seen it. At the same time, it's obviously not the same as watching the entire film start to finish, even though if someone brings it up in the conversation I'm not confused by the references. For some reason, I keep waiting to be "in the mood" for it (I'm not sure what that even means). 

Casablanca (1942)

Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime:  1 hr. 42 min.
MPAA Rating: PG

There are quite a few films on my list from the AFI's 100 Greatest Movies list, but this one is my highest priority as far as classics go. Not only is Casablanca a highly acclaimed movie, but also one that's important to the art of film overall. I've heard so much about it, from quotes to interpretations, that I just have to make time to watch it. It's also one of my husband's favorite movies of all time, and I can just FEEL the judgement every time the topic of me not watching it comes up. 

The Shining (1980)

The Shining (1980)

Genre: Horror
Runtime: 2 hr. 24 min. 
MPAA Rating: R

"Here's Johnny!" OK, you may or may not know that I actually love horror films (not the load of cliché and jump scare garbage that comes out every year—the good stuff). So how have I not seen The Shining? Simple: I tried to watch it in my teens, while alone in the middle of the night, and it scared me half to death—I couldn't get through it. I still don't think I would attempt watching it alone, but I am pretty confident I can generally handle it. I may not sleep for a few days after that, but whatever—it's happening next Halloween "season". Fun fact: I couldn't get through the book either—teens were not my bravest years. 

Rocky (1976)

Genre: Drama, Sports
Runtime: 1 hr. 59 min.
MPAA Rating: PG

I'll be honest, with all due respect to Mr. Stallone, I have never had any kind of massive interest in watching Rocky—I'm just not that into sports movies. But everyone and their mother keeps saying how great this film is (and I really do like Stallone), so fine, I'll watch it. I kid you not, a week doesn't go by without someone brining Rocky (or its soundtrack) up. I'm tired of hearing everyone talk about it, and having no idea what the fuss is all about. I don't know about the rest of the film series though—I'll just have to see how I feel after the first one.

There they are, the films I need to watch like... 10 years ago. And like I said, there are many more on my list—I could probably do a top five for every genre, but these are the ones that I hear about most often. Is there anyone out there like me, with a genuine love for film, but gaping holes in their knowledge? What movies are you ashamed to admit to not watching?


9 Books I'm Reading This Spring

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Before you question  my sanity because none of these are really "spring" books, let me assure you, I am not going for the spring theme here. In reality, this is a list of 9(ish) books that I most definitely want to get to within the next 2-3 months, starting now. Does that sound like a good blog post title? No, it doesn't. So I'm going with "9 Books I'm Reading This Spring". The reason I'm stepping away from doing monthly TBRs is simply because I have a hard time sticking to them—I'm a moody reader, I read what I feel like reading, and planning out 5+ books I will read every month sounds less like fun and more like a job. On the other hand, I definitely intend to read more than 9 books before summer, so this is me setting realistic reading goals for myself. Here's what I really want to get to (in no particular order):

1. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is something I actually started reading today. I honestly don't know much about this book, other that the fact that it supposedly is a great book for anyone who loves reading. This was a gift from my awesome friend Lindsay, and I am excited to finally start reading it!

2. A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir by Lev Golinkin is a memoir that has to do with immigration, as well as a personal journey. I haven't heard anyone talk about this book, but it sounded interesting to me, since I can personally relate to the topic. 

3. All That is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon is a historical fiction novel set around the Chernobyl disaster. This is another subject that's close to my heart, so I've been wanting to read this book ever since I first heard about it last year. Since the accident took place on April 26, I thought it would be appropriate to read this in April.

4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was one of my most anticipated books of the year, so I have no idea why I haven't read it yet. It's a mystery novel that's often compared to Gone Girl. Personally, I foresee it to be nothing like Gone Girl, because people like to compare books to unrelated books just because they're in the same genre, and I don't want to have any set expectations. What I do want is an awesome mystery thriller, and I hope this one will fit the bill.

5. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (speaking of Gone Girl) is my other mystery novel of choice for the next few months. I eventually want to read all of Gillian Flynn's novels, and I find it interesting that people tend to love this one and hate Sharp Objects, or the other way around. Not many people like both. I wonder which one will I prefer.

6. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard is a young adult fantasy novel that really sparked my interest. It's set in the world where people with silver blood possess magical abilities, and rule over regular people with red blood. I normally avoid young adult fantasy, but this one sounds like it could be really good. My lovely friend Tatiana surprised me by gifting me the book a week ago, and I can't wait to start reading it.

7. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is another book from  my most anticipated books of the year list, and we all remember how I felt about Vicious. This book involves parallel worlds, and magic. Combined with V.E. Schwab's writing, I'm sure this book is an amazing experience.

8. Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a very hyped-up retelling of Cinderella. Personally, if you say your book is about cyborgs, I'm already sold. Though I don't normally seek out fairytale retellings, this sounds like a kick-ass combination. I am a little afraid that I've been overhyped for this, but I sincerely hope the book lives up to my expectations.

9. A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin... Do I even need to say anything? I've been meaning to read the series pretty much ever since I started watching Game of Thrones (a.k.a. the best TV show EVER) I've already read and loved A Game of Thrones, but I still have four more books to get through. Since I don't know how long this will take, I'll just leave my final book goal for the spring at "as much as I can read".

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading this spring? 


In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken | Book Review

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Well, I'm finally done with The Darkest Minds series. If you've seen my reviews for the previous two books (here and here), you know how much I've been enjoying the series, so my expectations for this final book were set pretty high. Unfortunately, In the Afterlight ended up being a bit of a letdown compared to the other books. I still thought it was reasonably interesting, but it's definitely my least favorite one of the series. Some minor spoilers for the first two books ahead.

Series: The Darkest Minds (Book #3)
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopia, Science Fiction
Page Count: 535
Release Date: October 28, 2014

★★★☆☆

Before I get on with the review, let me preface this by saying I can't possibly imagine the pressure that comes with wrapping up a book series, especially a successful one with beloved characters. I'm not here to disrespect Alexandra Bracken's work or anything—I'm just someone who went into this book with high hopes after everything leading up to it, so please try not to get super defensive if you loved this one. To each their own.

In the Afterlight picks up where Never Fade left off, but this time at a much slower pace. This was one of my biggest problems with this book: it's the longest one in the series, and you can definitely feel it. Even though I'm not someone who needs an action-packed novel to stay interested, there comes a point when planning and strategizing starts to lose its appeal. It took me over half of the book to actually get excited about anything, which I think is way too many pages to spend being mildly interested. My favorite thing throughout those pages was the fact that Ruby finally came to terms with her powers, and started using them without being afraid. When the more exciting events came, they were too far in to make up for the time I spent waiting for something to happen, not to mention most of them were pretty predictable. Nothing really surprised me or struck me as a plot twist. 

Aside from the pacing, what frustrated me was the constant lack of communication between the characters, and I'm not just talking about Ruby and Liam. There are SO MANY problems everyone was dealing with that could have been solved and/or avoided if the characters would just talk to each other. Even taking into account the terrible circumstances they have faced growing up, I feel like at this point in the story they should have learned some basic benefits of talking things out and trusting others.

As far as the ending goes, it was an interesting balance of tying up story lines and explaining certain things, while also completely ignoring other ones and ultimately opening another can of worms. I can't say I felt satisfied by that, even though the author tried her best to wrap up the series. I still have so many questions! My final gripe with the book is that after all of this time, I didn't see much progress with accepting these people and their powers. Throughout the series, they are regarded as dangerous freaks and something that should be eliminated from society. Though this is slowly dealt with at different points, I never thought the attitude truly changed.

Now, I don't want you to think I hated the book—I really didn't. I still enjoyed reading about these characters, seeing them grow, change, and find ways to use their powers. In the Afterlight even made me really love a character I didn't like in the first place—Vida. The more I found out what's behind her incredibly sassy and crass facade,  the more I liked her. I also really enjoy Alexandra Bracken's writing, and the way she makes the personalities of her characters comes though.

In the end, I still liked In the Afterlight, and I would recommend the series overall, but I just didn't think it was as great as the other books in the trilogy or the novellas.

Have you read In the Afterlight? Did it live up to your expectations?

UPDATE: If you are thinking about getting into The Darkest Minds trilogy or you've already read it and want to talk about it, you should check out my review of the entire series in the video below!