Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Invisible Monsters

Anyone who read any of the notorious Chuck Palahniuk‘s novels (he’s the author of Fight Club) should know what he got himself into. The characters are usually people who have been marginalized in one form or another by society, and who react with often self-destructive aggressiveness. The narrator usually is the character himself, beginning at the temporal end, where he or she recounts the events that led up to the point at which the book begins. Then, There is often a major plot twist that is revealed near the end of the book, which relates in some way to this temporal end (i.e. the hidden gun). The formula can be described as refreshing and original, but sometimes, if the formula is great but the story is not, the book might not be as appealing as the writer intended to be. However, even though this is not exactly the case with Invisible Monsters, it did suffer from similar relapses.

The book recalls the misadventures of a beautiful fashion model that had everything: a boyfriend, a career, and a loyal best friend. Unfortunately she got into a horrific traffic accident (or was it an accident?) leaving her disfigured and incapable of speech, and suddenly she goes from being the center of attention to an invisible monster that no one wants to see. Enter Brandy Alexander, the queen supreme, that teaches our jawless hero how to reinvent herself, erase her past, and make something up instead. The fashion model then decides to reciprocate from that by kidnapping her boyfriend and setting her best friend’s house on fire, along with many events that are bound to shock you twice or thrice.

Granted, this book is not for everyone. However, it does contain a crude black humor that ranges from drag queens to overt sensationalism and searches for identity. Since the plot is so out there, it makes sense that the themes are also out there, in terms of characters and the writing style. The latter however might be a little bit confusing for those who aren’t familiar with Palahniuk’s work, but gives it a decent 30 – 50 pages and the manner will gradual grow on you. There are moment that can be described as humorously funny and others that don’t make any sense whatsoever. The plot twists start a little cheap at first, but then, they take a major loop toward the end and become much better in terms of execution. I cannot help but to feel sympathetic for the major character, but I honestly didn’t care for the rest (except for Brandy Alexander). If you think you can cope with the mystifying writing style and the off the wall script, you will definitely cherish the time you dedicated to this novel, but if you want simpler stories, then you probably should steer clear from this one.

~Rating~

Book Review: The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Dear friend,

Generally, I’m not a big fan of coming-of-age or teenage novels; they usually tend to be repetitive and uninspired. However, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was definitely something else. I’ve never read anything like it and I rarely get hooked up so easily by a book and seem to finish it in less than a week. Sure, the book isn’t long or tedious, and the simply yet intricate writing style definitely made this book an easy read, however; I cannot deny that I wasn’t attracted to Charlie’s beautiful story. Once I got through the first chapter of the book, I couldn’t put it down.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is told in a series of letters that were addressed from Charlie to an anonymous reader (presumably, you). Charlie begins his freshman year of high school very confused. He is friendless, a result of his only friend Michael, committing suicide only the year before. Most people think of him as weird because of his easy ability to cry and the fact that he’s so quiet. When he meets two seniors named Sam and Patrick, everything changes. Sam, Patrick, and their other friends begin to integrate him into the real world by exposing him to sex, drugs, rock and role, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Charlie begins to learn about friendship, sexuality, while learning how to understand his complicated family. By the end of the book, we begin to learn that Charlie’s freshman year is one of the most effective years of his life.

I cannot deny that I really loved Charlie’s character; he is so honest, real, blunt, and likable. From the start it seems that Charlie has a unique way of thinking and acting, and you may spend a lot of time trying to work out what’s “wrong” with him. After a while I realized that I relate to Charlie a lot more than I thought, and that we all probably relate to Charlie in some way or another. Thankfully, the book is wonderfully written and the language it conveys is very real and authentic. Stephen Chbosky commanded Charlie’s blunt character perfectly, with referencing enough pop culture elements such as books, movies, and songs that relate to the storyline in so many levels. Unfortunately, there are some scattered cheesy bits that might turn off some readers, and to be honest; I wasn’t completely shocked by the revelation at the end. Regardless however, the book cleverly manages to pull off some very nice and sometimes quite funny writing about family, friendship, and figuring oneself out. This book is a definite pick-up for younger readers and teenagers but I also invite the adult readers to invest their times in this novel. You will certainly love it as much I did, and maybe more.

Love always,
Angelo

~Rating~

Anime Review: Maison Ikkoku

Since I returned back home, I took the chance to return to my Maison Ikkoku DVD collection and re-live of what is considered one of the most wonderful and most convoluted romantic comedies ever made for an anime. Sure, the anime has gained its reputation as a beloved classic, and probably not as recent as the animes I reviewed so far, but as I see the hordes of recent anime youngsters getting hooked up on the Naruto and Bleach universe, I felt it is my job to introduce at least few of them to this adored anime through my humble blog. If you haven’t seen any Takahashi Rumiko‘s anime so far in your little anime adventure, you might want to give up your Okatu membership already. But you can reclaim that honor by watching the 96 episodes of this anime series for starters.

Set in 1980s Japan, Godai Yusaku is a ronin (someone who has failed university entrance exams) living in a run down apartment complex called Maison Ikkoku. Among the other residents are the nosy Mrs. Ichinoses, the bombshell Roppongi Akemi, and the mysterious salaryman Yotsuya. The others are given to having wild parties that makes it difficult for Godai to study. Into this mayhem comes the recently widowed Kyoko as the new live-in manager. It’s love at first sight for Godai, but of course he doesn’t have the nerve to tell her that he has strong feelings for her. As time passes, their relationship slowly (and realistically) develops amid life at Maison Ikkoku, despite all sorts of romantic hurdles that come between them.

Masion Ikkoku is certainly a simple and realistic anime that doesn’t need to stand on its two feet to impress us. It takes us back to the days when love was still anything but simple, but sweeter and quieter than what it is today. The realism and gradual development between the two main characters is so refreshing and never forced. While we never lose focus of the end goal in sight, there are several detours along the way, some in the form of love triangles, other in the forms of lifetime responsibilities. The characters that rule the scenes are multi-dimensional and certainly imaginative; even the zany Yotsuya comes as a breath of fresh air. The animation is superb and stands well for the modern standards of anime these days. The soundtrack, unfortunately, is none existence but the 80’s style pop themes are certainly charming. The voice-acting performance is decent in both the original Japanese and the dubbed English, but some people might want to watch it in the original audio. In the end, Maison Ikkoku still remains as one of my favorite animes of all time, and fortunately it is not as long and tedious as Takahashi’s other series (Ranma ½ anyone?) but the story would have been easily concluded at 30 episodes or less, however, it honestly deserves every trice of your time. Watch it today and read the Manga tomorrow.

~Ratings~

  • Story: 9/10
  • Characters: 9/10
  • Animation: 9/10
  • VA Performance: 8/10
  • Soundtrack: 8/10

Overall Score: 9/10

Album Review: Coldplay – Viva La Vida

  • This review is dedicated to Vixen.

Also dubbed as “Death And All His Friends“, Coldplay‘s fourth album has met with mixed and myriad reactions from music critics. Most of them have expressed disappointment and displeasure regarding the new direction Coldplay has taken in their latest offering to the Alternative/Rock genre. My reaction after spending all day listening to the whole album countless of times is that those critics must have been smoking crack or something! Viva la Vida certainly has pushed the boundaries of what I expect from Coldplay, producing a beautiful, serious and sometimes testing 45-minute disc, full with religious references and precious melodies.

The CD comes to life with a brilliant, glittering instrumental opener “Life In Technicolour“. It’s just a shame it doesn’t burst into a full track, lyrics and all, because it could have been the best on the album. “Cemeteries of London” follows next and it is blessed with douses of holy water; it’s atmospheric and daunting at the same time. “Lovers In Japan/ Reign of Love” is my absolute favorite. This unique track consist of two songs in one, it begins very instrumental and cheerful, then ends semi-acoustic and depressed. “Viva la Vida” is a brilliant string influenced track with incredible orchestration; excellent choice to represent the entire mood of the whole album. “Violet Hill” on the other hand, is more guitar influenced with monotonous repetitive melody over a rich harmonic background with a heavy insistent beat and clever use of piano at the end.

Viva la Vida definitely doesn’t disappoint, and it comes on par with “X & Y” if I dare to say. Sure, it might come a little bit different that Coldplay’s previous offerings but it certainly reveals its depth after several listens. Even though I reviewed only 5 tracks, I highly encourage you to give the entire CD a full album purchase. Believe in the hype baby! Believe in Viva la Vida!

Definite Downloads

1- Lovers In Japan/ Reign of Love
2- Viva la Vida
3- Cemeteries of London
4- Life In Technicolor
5- Violet Hill

~Rating~

Review: Helvetica

Documentaries usually prospect to tell a story of certain significant events or people; they can also be awfully mundane, or incredibly entertaining. Helvetica is the result of the outstanding prophecy from the award-winning director Gary Hustwit, which describes the ups and downs of a typeface, one of the most used typefaces in the English language that is. But the question is, will a documentary about a font provide any sort of entertainment?

Helvetica produces a cheerfully engaging investigation into the world’s most ubiquitous typeface, uncovering a minor hit storm in the world of graphic design as well as broadening the cinematic and analytical potential of the documentary form in the process. Tracing the roots of the Helvetica back to a small factory in Switzerland in the 1950s, the film charts its rise as a staple of corporate logos, warning signs and any form of communication that requires a direct and functional mode of expression. At personal level, I’m not a designer by any stretch, but have always been fascinated by the use of language and text. It really is empowering for a non-talent like myself to observe the proliferation of the democratizing of the tools of production. It has caused me to look much more closely at the written word in the world around me. It explores the way a typeface can polarize a society. While the topic may be considered mundane to some, this films’ treatment of it was anything but that. By the end of the movie, I felt artistically inspired on so many levels, and I definitely place it as one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen recently.

Artfully photographed, sharply edited and propelled by a gorgeous rock soundtrack, Helvetica is a film that owes probably more to philosophy than style. Don’t let the ordinary subject matter put you off. This is one of the wittiest, most diligently researched, mysteriously intelligent and quietly captivating documentaries of the new millennium. Helvetically recommended.

The Bottom Line

A-

Review: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII is essentially one of, if not the most, spoken of RPG game of all time, and has spawned spin-offs, movies, countless debates and conversations in message forums. So now, after eleven years and subsequent releases, Final Fantasy diehards have a game far beyond anyone’s expectations. Crisis Core ends up becoming what one might consider a prototype game from SquareEnix, with some completely new features and ideas that might have normally been left out of a traditional Final Fantasy game. Alas, that makes Crisis Core stands both above and apart from other RPGs on the market and up to Final Fantasy VII itself.

Crisis Core takes place a few years before the events of Final Fantasy VII. The main protagonist is Zack Fair, a 2nd Class member of SOLDIER, Shinra‘s elite fighting squad. FFVII fanatics may remember Zack from select scenes in the PSOne classic, but they were very barren and nobody really knew what the guy was like; he only had about one line in the entire game. I won’t go into any specifics, but just know the game is all about the adventures of Zack Fair as he makes his way up the SOLDIER ranks while meeting a lot of memorable characters along the way including Professor Hojo, Cloud, Aerith, and of course the coolest villain ever; Sephiroth.

The game is an action RPG through and through, but what sets it apart is that the battle system is not necessarily in real time, nor is it necessarily turn-based. The fighting style is similar to that of the Kingdom Hearts series, where if you press the attack button, Zack will charge and deliver swipes with his blade. Overall, the combat is really simplistic as you can cycle through various commands, such as using items or magic just by using the left and right shoulder buttons, and they’d all be used with the X button as well.

Initially, you will probably have a smooth sail in the beginning of the game, as you’ll easily eliminate herds of enemies with a single button, but not long enough; the game will throw at you a bunch of tough challenges that you will have to tamper with your battle strategy. But no need to fear, the Digital Mind Wave or DMW is here. The DMW system tracks Zack’s emotions of certain characters you meet in the game, and it automatically uses some of the points gained in battle to keep the slots moving, and when the left and right slots match, you’re taken to an additional screen to take a look at which pictures and numbers the middle slot stops at. When all three slots have the same character, Zack will perform a special move that corresponds to that character. However, when certain numbers match up in the slots, you level up a certain battle tool, whether that is your material (magic) or even Zack himself.

Aside from the main story, in save points you can take part in optional SOLDIER missions. They’re divided into separate categories and difficulties, which flash out in order to immediately tell the player what to expect. Essentially, these are all dungeon-crawler type missions, where the main point is to get from Point A to Point B, and kill the main monster. When you finish each mission, you’re awarded a particular item or materia, which make your journey a whole lot easier, especially since you won’t have too many opportunities to level up or find rare material in the main storyline All the missions are pretty short (about 15 minutes each), so the game is certainly playable when you’re on the go or if you want to play in bunches.

Visually, this game is stunning for the PSP hardware. After years of being told what the PSP can do, it’s refreshing to begin seeing not only technically good games but also great looking ones. The game is generously packed with glorious FMV cut-scenes that go above and beyond any competition to be found on a handheld, or even on consoles. The soundtrack remains breathtaking throughout, as even the battle-tested standards of the series get fresh and innovative updates and remixes of the original songs. Although the surprisingly deep writing makes saying the lines easier, the sheer quality of the voice actors is exquisite and quite enjoyable too.

The game however has it flaws and they are big ones. The lack of explorations really hits major points, which is quite unusual for a Final Fantasy game. The repetitive and unimaginative missions are also another shortcoming that might turn off some gamers and disregard it completely. Nevertheless, the sheer enjoyment the game has to offer is still enormous, making it one of the best game spin-offs ever made.

Returning to Midgar has never been so nostalgic, and Crisis Core intricately woven those fond memories in a tight package bundled with a tremendous fan service love. Crisis Core is what every Final Fantasy VII fan has been clamoring for; from opening to close, every note in this game plays well, and anyone that owns a PSP, even if not a fan of RPGs or Final Fantasy, should give Crisis Core a chance.

Overall Score

8.8 out of 10

CD Review: Leona Lewis – Spirit

Soon after her X Factor win last year, Leona Lewis was whisked to the States to work with several top producers on her debut album, Spirit. And oh boy, what a debut album, but more importantly, what a strong voice does Leona possess. Spirit is a very well rounded album and totally demonstrates Leona’s capabilities. It’s not balled-heavy but it definitely offers a stunning range of musical flavors.

“Bleeding Love” is my favorite track in this album, and it’s actually Leona’s first single. It’s totally amazing and without question, the best single ever released by an X Factor contestant – although that’s not a bar set especially high. Half ballad and half not, and the bass-free production makes it an incredibly catchy song. “Take A Bow” is the song that really demonstrates Leona’s range and rhythm. It has a little bit of Mariah’s touch but Leona’s smartly makes it her own. “Better In Time” is also a standout track! It has the same vive as Bleeding Love; very catchy melody and chorus that blends beautifully with the piano and strings. “I Will Be” is more like a pop-rock song but Leona’s voice nicely overshadows the instruments and she takes the center stage with the lyrics. “Footprints In The Sand” is among the slowest track in the album but it won’t drive you to sleep at all. It is very beautiful and very Whitney Huston; it’s quite uplifting. In the end, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending this album to anyone who loves music generally. However, if you are a big fan of Carey and Huston, then this album is definitely for you.

Definite Downloads

1- Bleeding Love
2- Take A Bow
3- Better In Time
4- I Will Be
5- Footprints In The Sand

~Rating~