Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Daniel's top 5 favorite movies of 2017

  2018 is waiting to greet us with a big hug. 


It is the time to list my top 5 favorite movies of 2017. A lot of interesting movies were released this year; some movies were really good, while some movies were outright terrible (yes, I am looking at you, Transformers 5). However, 2017 is also the year of divisive opinions, where the audiences were divided into either loving, or hating, some major blockbusters. For example, just look at all the talks surrounding Star Wars The Last Jedi; the critics love it, but the audience hate it.

Anyway, none of the movies on my top 5 list has caused divisive opinions. And so feel free to read on because there could be a few movies on this list that you haven't seen yet. If that is the case, then you might want to surf the wave of the holiday season and check them out.

As usual, I compiled this top 5 list based on my opinions. In other words, while these 5 movies may not be the most well made movies of 2017, but I chose them because every single film here has touched me in one way or another.

Without further delay, allow me to unveil the list.

Number 5:

Get Out 

Genre: Horror/Satire

Get Out is a horror movie without ghosts or monsters. "Huh? Do you mean, it is a thriller?" Well, I suppose this movie can also be categorized as a thriller. I don't want to give the story away, so let me just say in Get Out, a white girl takes her black boyfriend home to meet mom and dad, and then things became REALLY weird. Speaking of plot twists, Get Out was full of it. While I was watching this movie, every time I thought the story was going one way, it would suddenly do a plot 180 and take me by surprise. This movie was also packed with a healthy dose of suspense. The whole time, I was worrying for its protagonist. There was a real sense of danger in this wonderfully executed film. Furthermore, Get Out is also a social commentary and it is humorous! What is it commenting on? Well, check out this movie and see it for yourself.

Number 4:


Genre: Horror/Drama

No cinematic experience can match the thrills of a good remake, of the most horrifying movie from your childhood. At the tender age of 10, I watched the 1990 TV adaptation of IT. The result? I developed a phobia of clowns and bathroom sinks, a fear that only went away when I turned 11. In 2016, the announcement came, about a new movie adaptation in the making, and it got me really excited.

On the day this movie came out, I bought the ticket and walked gingerly into the cinema to confront the nightmare from my childhood – Pennywise the Dancing Clown. This time around, however, the movie did not scare me at all and it was a blast! This movie, a true Stephen King adaptation, is an interesting mix between Stand By Me and Nightmare on Elm Street. The stars of this movie were the kids; it is a story about growing up and confronting your worst fear. While Pennywise was terrifying, but even if they remove the evil clown and so the movie was only about the kids, it would still be just as good. If you haven't seen IT, then make sure to check it out.

Number 3:


Genre: Superhero

Every good story must have an ending. The problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is that it doesn't end!

Therefore, out of all superhero movies that came out in the last 5 years, Logan is the most important of them all. Why? Because Logan gave us, the audience, something we deserve – an ending.

Hugh Jackman's performance in Logan is phenomenal. This movie, heart rending and emotional, is about redemption. It brought the story of Wolverine, a most beloved character in X-men, to a fitting and moving conclusion. There is a (very) slight pacing issue with this movie, but overall the actions were great, its characters were memorable. From the start to the finish, this movie was compelling. Logan is perhaps my favorite superhero movie just after The Dark Knight.

Number 2:

War for the Planet of the Apes

Genre: Science fiction

In 1968, a very influential movie graced the science fiction genre. Starring Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes featured a mind-bending story about a planet, where the hierarchy between human and apes, were reversed; apes were in charge and humans were caged animals. To this day, Planet of the Apes remains one of my favorite sci-fi movies of all time. But how did the apes become the dominant species on earth? Director Matt Reeve made a prequel trilogy to explore the origin for Planet of the Apes, and this is one of the most satisfying movie trilogy on the market.

This trilogy is about the story of Caesar, a charismatic leader of the apes. In War for the Planet of the Apes, Caesar's story arc came to a soul-stirring conclusion. The special effects in this movie were breathtaking. I would half-jokingly say, the apes in this movie looked more lively than the real apes! Some people have complained about the movie's slow pace and lack of actions. Well, despite its title "War" for the Planet of the Apes, this is actually a character driven story, not an action-packed war movie. For me, I love this movie because it is an emotional story about forgiveness, tolerance, and redemption. Now that the trilogy is completed, it occupies a seat in my list of top 10 movie trilogies of all time.

Number 1:

The Disaster Artist

Genre: Biography/Comedy/Drama

The Disaster Artist is a movie about the making of The Room, arguably the worst movie ever made. 

James Franco played Tommy Wiseau, and this is perhaps his best performance yet. The Disaster Artist didn't just make fun of Tommy Wiseau. Instead, this movie is about one man's determination to turn his dream, of making his own movie, become a reality (even if his movie turned into the worst movie ever made). Admittedly, I did not expect The Disaster Artist to be deep or meaningful prior to its release. However, when the credit started rolling on the silver screen, I realized this movie surpassed my expectations; it was funny, heartbreaking, but also inspiring. It stole the top spot on my list of favorite movies of 2017.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Book Review: Dancer's Lament by Ian C. Esslemont (Path to Ascendancy #1)

Dancer's Lament, written by Ian C. Esslemont, returned me to the beloved world of Malazan. What is Malazan? This is an epic fantasy series created by two Canadian authors, Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont. The world, and the story of Malazan defy the tropes in fantasy. Erikson's works, Malazan Book of the Fallen, is a titan consisting of 10 books, and it told a powerful story about compassion, and the problem of suffering; if there is such a thing as "War and Peace of the fantasy genre", then this is it. As an avid reader of the fantasy literatures, I consider this critically acclaimed series, the most important books ever written in the genre and it is my favorite series of all time.

The co-creator of Malazan is Ian C. Esslemont (who authored a 6 book series called Malazan Empire), but I have never read his books. During a visit to my local book store, however, I chanced upon Dancer's Lament. The book arrested my attentions. After a glance through the book blurb, I discovered that Dancer's Lament is the first book in a prequel trilogy to Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series.

A preqeuel trilogy? Count me in!

I purchased Dancer's Lament and took it home with me. I set my eyes on the opening paragraph, and I was hooked instantly. Dancer's Lament is not an easy book to read, yet I read the most of it during the weekend nevertheless. Esslemont's writings differ vastly to Erikson's own, but I like it. Out of all the fantasy novels I read this year, Dancer's Lament may be the most satisfying one yet.


The story is set on the continent of Quon Tali. Regional powers divided this land following generations of warfare. At the onset of a border war, an young assassin known as Dorin ventured into the powerful city state of Li Heng. Dorin has two agendas on his mind. Firstly, he wished to establish his name in a big city as the best assassin of his time. Secondly, he is hot on the trail of a Don Hon mage, a little fellow called Wu, who seemed immune to Dorin's stabbing blade. These two young men, whose fates entwined, plotted a scheme to take over Li Heng from the ruling hand of a powerful sorceress known as the "Protectress". Meanwhile, the Quon Tali Iron Legion laid siege to the city.

Chaos ensued, it is the stuff of cloak and dagger, magics, and knife fights. Or, as Wu would say, it is also a time for... opportunities.

My thoughts on this book:

Those who have read Malazan Book of the Fallen will spot easter egg galore in Dancer's Lament. Unlike Erikson's books which usually have dozens of POV characters, Dancer's Lament only has 4 to 5 POV characters. Lengthwise, Dancer's Lament counted to a reasonable 400 pages, where Erikson's books are usually 1000+ pages each. In other words, Dancer's Lament is a lot easier to read than Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Esslemont also writes his book differently to Erikson; where Erikson dived deeply into philosophy and economy, Esslemont focused more on the storytelling instead. I like Erikson's books and Esslemont's prequel trilogy equally, for each has his own voice and style.

This book is set in a city called Li Heng. While this name may invite one to guess that the story's setting is pseudo Asian, but that is far from the truth. I can not relate the cultural setting in this book to any known culture in our world, or with the world from any other fantasy book. This is because the worldbuilding in this book is unique. Malazan is renowned for its detailed and revolutionary worldbuilding. Its scope is breathtaking. If you think George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is epic, then wait until you read Malazan. Its world, and the story, are spanning across 4 continents, each continent and its people is abundant with lores and history. When it comes to races, there are really interesting ones in Malazan. You won't see the elves, dwarves, or halflings in Malazan. Instead, Malazan offers fascinating races that stretch the boundary of imaginations. Furthermore, in Malazan, you also won't find the pseudo European setting typical in most Tolkienesque fantasy books. No, every culture in Malaz is one of a kind. Despite its alienness, however, the world of Malazan is also believable, rich, and lively. I think the rich and original worldbulding in Malazan is due to Erikson and Esslemont's trainings, where both authors are archeologist as well as anthropologist.

Dancer's Lament cast Dorin as the main character. It is no universal secret that Dorin's partner in crime, Wu, would later become the founder of the Malazan Empire; where Wu is to become emperor Kellavend, and Dorin would become Dancer, the chief advisor to Kellavend. But somewhere down the line, this duo would advance in their careers to become gods, and therefore key players in Malazan Book of the Fallen series. So how did it all happen? How did a vagabond mage and a penniless assassin found an empire and then ascended to become gods? This book narrated the duo's humble origins, and the misadventures which paved the way to their ascendancy. Writing a prequel can be tricky. In the prequel, the author has to make sure the characters are consistent with the original series, as well as being reflections of their younger selves. In Dancer's Lament, Esslemont did a sterling job at maintaining the continuity of characterizations. In this book, Dorin and Wu were inexperienced and ambitious, but I also saw the personality traits in them, the traits that marked them as Contillion and Shadowthrone in Malazan Book of the Fallen series. Of the duo, Wu is eccentric, his overly ambitious schemes often landed them in the deep ends of trouble, making the partnership between Wu and Dorin uneasy, but also humorous.

In this book, the story's focal point was Dorin and Wu's plan to take over the city. This story was quite complex, it involved stratagems and shady dealings with the criminal underground. Despite its intricate plotting, the storytelling was seamless and exciting. I did not experience a second of boredom while reading this book. Every intrigue was accompanied by fast-paced action scenes that left me sitting at the knife's edge. Speaking of actions, this book had it all; from knife fights on the rooftops, assassinations in the shadowed back alleys, siege battles, to warring mages hurling explosive magics and wrecking havocs. I think Esslemont is a master at writing the action scenes, while his depictions are not as detailed as Erikson's, but Esslemont wrote his action scenes, fiery paced, with lots of thunder.

Aside from Dorin and Wu, Dancer's Lament also featured a cast of supporting characters who were very memorable. For example, I like the Protectress and her five city mages. These characters inhibited a very grim and dark world, but each of these character carried a touch of humor with them, and they were likable. It is also worthwhile to mention, Dassem Ultor appeared in this book. Here, Dassem's career as a remarkable swordsman was just budding at the temple of Hood. Dassem only had a minor presence in Malazan Book of the Fallen series, but he is one of my favorite characters. I am very glad that Esslemont's prequel trilogy is telling the origin story of Dassem. From the look of it, it seems Dassem will take on a major role in the future books and I am very excited about it.

The last 100 pages of this book was a converging event and it was very epic. From there, the book became unputdownable. I let out a sigh of contentment as I flipped over the last page in the epilogue. This is an excellent, action-packed novel that will sate a fantasy reader's hunger for an exciting tale. Veterans of the Malazan world would not want to miss out on this one. On the other hand, I think Dancer's Lament can also be a good starting point for a new comer to this series.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Movie Review: The Disaster Artist

In 2003, Tommy Wiseau proved to the world, a way to become famous in the arts and entertainment industry is to make a "one of a kind" disaster piece. 

What disaster piece? Have you heard of a movie called The Room? The Room is an independent drama, and it is widely agreed by critics and audiences alike as the worst movie ever made. Today, The Room is a beloved cult classic.

Why would people love a really bad movie? 

Because it is a hella fun!

Although unintentional, but every scene in The Room is wrong; from the narratives, the settings, the directions, to the acting, everything is brilliantly out of whack. Yet, all the "wrongness" in The Room combined in such a miraculous way, to create this indescribable, cinematic experience. Even if you put together, the top ten directors in the world and charge them with a mission to craft a bad movie, the chances of them making a movie as deliciously bad as The Room is like winning the Lotto at the very second of planetary alignment!

If you haven't seen The Room, then you should try it at least once in your life. Really, this movie should be on everyone's bucket list.

The Room is a spectacular disaster and a treasure, but Tommy Wiseau remains a mystery to the legions of fans. You see, in the early 2000s, Tommy Wiseau suddenly appeared out of nowhere, who then took a few million bucks out of his own pocket to make The Room. No one knows where Tommy was born, how old he is, why he speaks with a strange accent, or why his bank account is a bottomless pit (BTW, the man also looks like Count Dracula).

Putting it simply, the guy is a total mystery. That is, until The Disaster Artist hit the cinema this weekend and shed some lights into the story behind The Room's making. And I have to tell you, the story about Tommy Wiseau is even more extraordinary than The Room itself.

Starring James Franco, The Disaster Artist recounts the powerful story behind the making of The Room. Powerful? Yes, I did just use the word "powerful" to describe this movie. While The Disaster Artist is a comedy and abundant with humor, but at its core, this movie is about one man's determination to turn his vision into the reality (even if his vision turned out to be the worst movie ever made).

This movie is funny. When I was watching this movie, my eyes watered and my stomach was hurting from laughing too hard. James Franco did an excellent job at portraying Tommy Wiseau. The moment James Franco appeared on the screen, I thought to myself, "yep, I can believe that man is Tommy Wiseau". The supporting actors and actresses also put up brilliant performances on par with James Franco's own.

The Disaster Artist is a comedy, but underneath the laughters, this movie is heart wrenching and inspiring. Tommy was determined to make his vision come true and he didn't care what other people say to him. This story moved me. I mean, how many of us are letting the fear of failure stop us from doing something that we always wanted to do? Yet, at the same time, this movie also showed the negative side to Tommy's attitude. While it was good that Tommy didn't care about other people's comments, but he overdid it, to the point where he rejected all good advices and constructive criticisms. In this movie, Tommy was the hero, but he was also the villain. This brings up the point, maybe we do need to listen to other people's criticisms of us. But how much should we care? To what extent? I don't know, maybe there is no easy answer to this.

I loved The Disaster Artist. This year is bursting with highly anticipated movies, but my most anticipated movie was this one, and it did not disappoint me. The Disaster Artist is one of my favorite movies of 2017 alongside La La Land, Logan, and War for the Planet of the Apes. I highly recommend this movie.


1) You don't need to have seen The Room to enjoy The Disaster Artist.

2) But you really should check out The Room at least once in your life, it is an otherworldly experience; out of space, and out of time.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Book Review: Unquiet Spirits - Whisky, Ghosts, and Murder by Bonnie MacBird (A Sherlock Holmes Adventure #2)

Two weeks ago, I came upon a book at my local library. The book's cover arrested my attentions; it was white, depecting a faceless man attired in the fashion of the Victorian era. Its title read, "Unquiet Spirits: Whisky, Ghosts, Murder", written by one Bonnie MacBird. A closer inspection at the book revealed it is a pastichie for Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes? I like Sherlocl Holmes. I have never heard of Bonnie MacBird. Yet, I was in the mood for murder mysteries and detective stories. I borrowed the book with no idea of what to expect of it. With the book in my hand, I curled up on my bed and opened it to the first page.

The story opened in December, 1889. Sherlock Holmes just returned to 221B Baker Street after he debunked the "ghostly" hound of Dartmoor. Before boredom found Holmes, a beautiful client came knocking at his door, who then proceeded to narrate a macabre tale of ghosts, kidnappings, and dynamites, all happened at a whisky state in Scotland. Meanwhile, brother Mycroft charged Holmes with an urgent assignment in Southern France, which also concerned the whisky productions. Could there be a connection between the two cases? The clues send Watson and Holmes on an arduous journey, from the sunshine-filled hotels of Southern France, to a haunted estate in the snowy highlands. Along the way, the heroic duo would encounter treacherous rivals, as well as investigating a deadly vendetta rooted in the ghosts of the past. It was to be a journey of whisky, ghosts, and murder. 

Hang on a minute, does Sherlock Holmes believe in ghosts?

What an intriguing premise! Sherlock Holmes, a most rational thinker, meets a claim of the supernatural! From chapter one, this book drew me in. I could not put it down and I read its 500 page contents in 3 sittings. This is a second time I am reading a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, and this book feels like an authentic Sherlock Holmes adventure. The author, Bonnie MacBird, narrated the story in a style very similar to Arthur Conan Doyle. However, where the pacing in the original Sherlock Holmes novels were uneven, Unquiet Spirits told its story at a smooth and exciting pace. This book gave time for its mysteries to develop, but its narratives also sped up and intensified for the actions. The plot was masterfully executed, with many twists and turns waiting to surprise its reader. Furthermore, this book also captured, vividly, the dynamics and the tensions in Watson and Holmes' friendship. In some ways, I like Unquiet Spirits more than the canonical Sherlock Holmes novels.

I don't usually assign a rating to a book in my review. If I were to rate this book, however, then it would easily be 5 out of 5. This book gave me a pleasant surprise. This is why I like visiting the library and just borrow random novels that catch my eyes; among the dusty tomes sitting on the shelf, you never know what exciting adventure is waiting to be discovered. For my next reading adventure, I am tracking down another book in this series titled, "Art in the Blood". Meanwhile, I highly recommend Unquiet Spirits to my fellow readers, especially to those who are fond of Sherlock Holmes and detective fictions.

The Cthulhu Casebooks - Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."

So wrote, H.P Lovecraft's famous opening line in The Call of Cthulhu. A tale designed to terrify and shatter the mind, The Call of Cthulhu is about the impassive cosmos, the indifference of its eldritch gods, and of our own position therein.

"All right, so the universe doesn't care, what is so horrifying about it?" You said.

I agree. To some, the understanding, that the universe is not designed and therefore indifferent to our existence, is not horrifying but liberating. On the one hand, it frees us from the tormenting questions about the origin of evil, suffering, and the cruelties of these so-called gods; for random chance, is fairer than design. On the other hand, such an understanding inspires us to care more for our fellows and alleviate sufferings, and therefore opening a channel, both rationally and emotionally satisfying, to express our compassionate nature. After all, if there is nothing out there that cares for us, then there is even more reason for us to care for each other.

However, revealing to some, the indifferent nature of the universe, and the cruelty of the so-called gods, may edge them towards insanity and utter despair; especially to those long living with the romantic notion, that everything will be all right because the universe was "meant" to have us in it. The question, is such a pretence beneficial to mankind's collective existence?

Douglas Adams, the author for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, provided some insights:

Quote: "This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for."

Indeed, if we are not careful, the romantic notion that the universe was designed for us, may yet become the architect of our very own extinctions. So, did Dr. John Watson, and his detective friend Sherlock Holmes, dealt mankind a disfavor when they fabricated the "Sherlock Holmes" stories to shield us from the deadly light of truth, so we may continue to live in the peace and safety of a dark age?

Dear friends, we live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity. Now is the time to voyage far. Now is the time for revelation.

It was in the winter of 1880. An epidemic of insanity assaulted the foggy streets of London. It stripped the city's denizens, men and women, of their wits, and reducing them to gibbering, incoherent, ruins. One ameatur detective, Sherlock Holmes, deduced a connection between the plague and an underground drug lord. During an espionage in a tavern, Holmes encountered and befriended Dr. John Watson. The duo then set out to unveil the criminal motives behind the pestilence in London, but instead they uncovered vistas of terrifying realities...

The above paragraphs are my own attempt to capture the essence, and the mood, for James Lovegrove's novel: The Cthulhu Casebooks – Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows. This book is a pastiche to both Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft stories. It married Sherlock Holmes to Cthulhu mythos, pitting the world's greatest detective (a sceptic) against the supernatural. Does the description interest you? It interested me.

If you are fond of Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraftian horrors, then this book will sate your literary hunger with a plentiful of logical deductions, mysteries, and cosmic horrors. For the book's narratives, the author mimicked the writing styles of Arthur Conan Doyle, while drenching the story with an atmosphere that is almost Lovecraftian. It suffices to say, in this book, the author did a very good job at reconstructing the vibe and the feel of the source materials. However, if you are a purist to the source materials, then you can't help but feel that thematically this book is a piece of fan fiction. Allow me to explain. The book's premise is "Sherlock Holmes vs supernatural". In this book, Sherlock Holmes became a believer of the supernatural, while both Watson and Holmes emerged to be heroes in the end. Yet in the source material, Sherlock Holmes always remained a sceptic even if a case has a strong inclination towards the supernatural (a case in point is The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire). Meanwhile, in Lovecraftian stories, heroes don't exist. The prevalent theme in Cthulhu mythos is this - people who chanced upon the cosmic horror, and come away tormented by the universe's indifference towards mankind's existence.

In other words, this book may have captured the writings of Doyle, and the feel of Cthulhu mythos, but in the process of blending them together to create a new story, the author had to drop the polemic themes from each of the source material – Holmes lost his skepticism, while Cthulhu mythos lost its philosophy about cosmicism.

The purists of Doyle and Lovecraft may find things in this book that irk them. As for me, I am not a purist to these source materials, so this book provided me with hours of fun and entertainment. I enjoyed reading about the mysteries, the actions, the world building, and the deductive prowess of Sherlock Holmes. Will I recommend this book? Yes, definitely. I read this fast-paced book in a few sittings and it was a blast. Those who are interested in mystery, horror, and detective novels may find this book to their likings. 

Stayed tune for my next book review, where I will talk about another Sherlock Holmes pastiche titled, Unquiet Spirits: Whisky, Ghosts, Adventure, by Bonnie MacBird. 

P.S. If you are a fan of Arkham Horror board game, then you will love this novel.