Us

Brought to us by the genius mind of Jordan Peele, Us is a film that cannot be brought to justice by any summary. This is a film that you must see for yourself because it is an experience that will have you leaving the theater with so many questions and a unwavering desire to break down this film to a molecular level of understanding. This film has so much, it falls into so many genres: comedy, thriller, horror, psychological, and mystery.

I strongly recommend watching this movie for yourself and avoiding any sort of summary, but for the sake of this review, I will give a basic summary while avoiding any important details because I want you all to experience the mind-blowing cinematography and plot.

Red and Adelaide meeting in the Wilson summer beach house.

Adelaide, Gabe, and their two children, Zora and Jason are taking a vacation and are spending time at their family beach house. We learn that as a child, Adelaide had a traumatic experience at that beach and is reluctant to see it again, but gives in to her family and agrees to go. That same night as they prepare for bed, Jason informed his parents that he spotted a family standing in their driveway, prompting Gabe to stand outside twice as he fails to intimidate them.
Cornering them, this mysterious family reveals themselves to be their doppleganger’s, Adelaide’s doppleganger telling her a story in which she describes herself as Adelaide’s shadow that goes by the name of Red. The family manages to escape their dopplegangers and rush to their friends, the Tylers’ home only to find that they have all been murdered by their own dopplegangers. The Wilsons watch the news to see that everyone in the area is being hunted by their dopplegangers and standing together to form a human chain. Red manages to kidnap Jason, prompting Adelaide to chase after her and enter through the maze of mirrors she had gotten lost in as a child.
Adelaide confronts Red and after a struggle, manages to kill Red, releasing strange animalistic noises as she does this. Jason reunites with her and they escape in an ambulance with the rest of the family. As Adelaide is driving it is revealed that Adelaide had met Red in the house of mirrors as a child and the real Adelaide was forced into the underground with the others while the doppleganger took her place on the surface. Jason seems to have realized this as well and looks strangely at his mother while she casts him a small smile.

Pluto, Abraham, Red, and Umbrae holding hands outside the Wilson peoperty

After watching Jordan Peele’s Get Out, I went in expecting to feel as shocked watching Us as I was with Get Out and was not disappointed. The film can’t beat Get Out, but it is definitely another masterpiece from Jordan Peele. Aside from the fact that these characters are running from themselves, these dopplegangers communicate through grunts and snarls and move in such quick inhumane ways that you can’t help but feel uneasy simply by looking at them. The group of them known as The Tethered, all dawn a red jumpsuit, a glove, and a pair of scissors that they use to kill their surface twins.

Joran Peele has a way of making you laugh in moments you wouldn’t normally have laughed in, and it works a way of deflating this tension before suddenly thrusting you back into this terrifying moment before you even have time to catch your breath. You are ultimately left with more questions than answers, but there is enough there to either piece together the events of past and present as well as create a guess as to what has occurred on and off the screen.

This movie is an absolute recommendation and if you are not a fan of horror/psychological films, I still recommend this film if you like unique and shocking plots.

Rating: 5/5

The Great Unknowable End

Giving up her dreams in order to care for her family after her brother abandons them, Stella must now face her realizations that she will likely never pursue her passion for engineering. Born into a commune in Kansas, Galliard lives what he believes to be the best place for humanity, moreso as a person with Tourette’s; a life-altering decision makes his world seem to crumble around him as his desires go unanswered and he finds himself doubting the leaders of his home.

I found this novel to be extremely well balanced, incorporating so many plot points that could have easily been a messy web had the writer not kept a tight grip on them. There is adventure, mystery, romance, and as this is all happening, natural disasters plague Kansas, addinng to the tension of these characters. Our two protagonists, Stella and Galliard, both begin in their separate lives that seem to have no link to one another, but when it is revealed that Stella’s brother is actually a friend of Galliard’s, things become shaky, especially when friendships are broken and secrets are brought out.

Stella has a dream to attend college and study engineering, but she is far too committed to her family to consider leaving them even to pursue her dreams. Galliard is a muscician that finds himself in a position that prevents him from pursuing his goals of sharing his music. The two are raised in different worlds but ultimately face the same the dilemma of incapable of pursuing their dreams for the sake of others or their futures. I initially began the novel more interested in the natural disasters, but almost immediately after became invested in the characters and didn’t even mind that there was no real explanation to the strange events that occurred in the end.

I do remain curious as to why the Ormsbee chose the plot to take place in the year 1977; I easily found myself forgetting that this wasn’t taking place in current time until moments such as Elvis’s death is mentioned near the end. It isn’t necessarily good or bad that I forgot the setting’s time, but did make me wonder if anything else could have made it much more solid. Throughout the novel there is also this exchange of letters between Stella and her brother Craig, but by the end of the novel, there had been so few letters that when they did appear, they did not seem as important or interesting to me. I believe the letters are essential to the plot but I would have liked to have seen a lot of these letters between the chapters.

If you are looking for a well-paced young adult novel, then this is a complete recommendation!

A copy was provided to me by NetGalley. All opinions and ratings mentioned are my own.

Haphaven

Raised to believe in all things superstition, Alex Zane Mills, is not looking forward to her thirteenth birthday, uneasy over the unlucky number. After being scolded by her mother that doesn’t understand the obsessive following of superstitions, Alex decides to take a moment to consider she is being silly to believe in Lady Luck shining down on her, resulting in her mother falling into a life or death situation. Now Alex must travel to a world where superstitions are law in order to save her mother and understand the history of her family’s luck.

Lion Forge once again brings another great read that was visually pleasing and presented the perfect balance of action and humor in less than 200 pages. Alex is dependent on the luck she is sure is given to her by her great grandfather Zane said to have gone off to marry Lady Luck herself, much to her mother’s irritation. When stepping on a crack literally breaks her mother’s back, Alex journeys to the end of the rainbow with a leprechaun with no hesitation. From throwing salt over the shoulder to knocking on wood before it knocks you back, the world of Haphaven functions solely on superstition, which Alex immediately eases into. She is determined to get a hold of a rabbit’s foot in order to save her mother, but finds that the foot is not only difficult to find, but is still attached to the rabbit.

Despite the graphic novel being very fast paced, it didn’t feel too rushed and even worked in the plot’s favor as Alex and the other characters are constantly on the move. Alex is a strong and intelligent young lady that isn’t afraid to leap into action even in the face of a danger that has her cornered. The art style uses soft colors beautifully that create especially emotional moments for the characters and features bright colors to place emphasis on certain objects in the panels. My only complaint is that Alex is seen always carrying around a bat that has lucky symbols carved into them that was given to her by her father, though she doesn’t use it as often as I thought she would. It becomes more of a symbol of her being unable to let go of this dependency on being given luck by her relative Zane and think this would have been more evident if she were to spend a few more moments looking down at the symbols on the bat rather than just swing them at some trees.

I absolutely recommend this graphic novel and if the cover does not peak your interest, then the first five pages surely will.

I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by the teams at NetGalley and Lion Forge. Opinions expressed are my own.

Will Haunt You

A musician finds himself thrust into a living nightmare where he must now face his mistakes after reading a book that has now made him a part of the story. Will Haunt You is a horror novel that aims to thrust the readers into the clutches of this mysterious book alongside our main character, Jesse. It is a seemingly strange journey with more questions than answers and despite going full circle by the end, there is still much left to ponder over this created universe and the concept of the novel’s delivery.

Being an avid reader of horror, I found the plot following Jesse and this book he has read to be interesting. The novel mentions this mysterious name, Obsideo, multiple times, making it become this frightening and inexplainable thing that is manipulating Jesse’s reality and those important to him. The way he is being pushed into different environment with seemingly unconnected situations of previous experiments gives me a (although funny) Spooky’s House of Jump Scares vibe with the different rooms, left behind journals, and terrifying monsters or characters appearing before the protagonist.

Jesse isn’t an amazing character, he isn’t a person I felt was well-liked, and the novel did a great job of using the first-person perspective of Jesse to detail the fact that he was aware of his errors and didn’t deserve any sort of forgiveness. His awareness makes him human and there is this immense guilt he carries because of his fault at his son being disabled after an accident involving Jesse in a drunken stupor. There is definitely a lot of depth to him, but I honestly found myself much more interested in the environment than his history. There are several moments where Jesse listen to a scientific journal and read the journal of a previous victim and I wished there was much more of these documents tossed into the environment.

Brian Kirk

Brian Kirk actually has a post on his own blog in which he goes a bit further into the inspiration for this novel. Basically a neighboring couple in his neighborhood had a strange experience with a book titled Obsideo. There are screenshot of this couple documenting this experience and definitely leaves you with chills down your spine. You can check it out here, if you dare.

This novel didn’t exactly have me on the edge of my seat and did take me some time to get through, but I would like to see more of this story expanded on, whether it be through different characters or an anthology of documents from the mysterious book itself. The story clearly wanted the readers to be immersed through the fourth wall breaks, but it just didn’t pull it off and is the reason I was skeptical over my thoughts on the book. If you are a fan of creepy mysteries, then I suggest you take a look at this book once it is available for purchase, especially when this novel is sure to have many have their own theories and thoughts on the plot and setting(s).

This Advanced Reader’s Copy was provided to me by NetGalley and Flame Tree Press.

PTSD

A soldier returned from war without an eye and a heavy weight on her shoulders, Jun is a woman forced to struggled for survival while carrying the memories of a war that continuously plays in her mind. PTSD is a beautifully illustrated story of how a returned soldier never truly left the battle and is now living on the streets struggling to cope with the terrors of war through isolation and drug abuse.

Despite the setting not being identified by name, the art style and landscape of this city indicates that this is based off of Tokyo. It is a city with what seems to have a high population of homeless, many of whom are veterans, and they are all fast and easy consumers of drugs that help these veterans cope with anxiety, restlessness, and panic attacks that Jun experiences on multiple occasions from nightmares to the distant sound of a child’s bicycle tire popping. She relies on drugs to cope and when she doesn’t have any, she will do anything to obtain more even if it means getting on the bad side of the dealers.

The art style gives a manga vibe to it, and it so colorful that you wouldn’t even think that these bright colors would work in a scene displaying people getting shot at. I’d like to point out that although there is plenty of action, this story is a focus on the trauma coming from war, not the war itself, so do not expect every other page to be action filled. There is warmth and character development from Jun and others and beautifully demonstrates the power of a community that comes together during desperate times.

From the colors to the types of lines in the art, there are so many details that play with the story that I couldn’t help get excited over. One key element that makes Jun’s character interesting is that during her panic attacks or moments of stress, her eye goes from being a perfectly shaped oval, to an oval that appeared to almost have been drawn by something with shaking hands, giving this look of disarray and terror on her face. They are amazing little details, but to the plot they are extremely important in portraying the struggles and emotional strain Jun and these other veterans are going through. I completely recommend this graphic novel and think it is a unique and important read to incorporate in the much needed discussion about the subject.

An advanced reader’s copy of PTSD was provided to me by NetGalley and First Second Books. All opinions and ratings mentioned are my own. 

Life is Strange

An episodic adventure video game that functions as heavily story-oriented, Life is Strange follows the adventures of high school student Max Caulfield as she discovers she now has the power to manipulate time.

Set in fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, this game places Max in the center of a natural disaster building after she has gotten used to her newly found powers. She is a passionate young woman aspiring to be a professional photographer, important to the game mechanics as there are key points in which you are either looking at or taking a photograph. Alongside her is Chloe Price, her best friend since childhood who she lost contact with after moving away from Arcadia Bay, but after returning, they soon re-spark their friendship and discover the secrets to Max’s powers.

Being a fan of the decision-making style of games such as famous Telltale Game titles, I absolutely loved the plot and pacing of this game that leaves you making decisions that affect your relationship with others and alters the plot for each episode. If you are a fan of fast paced games with a lot of combat, then this game is likely not for you, the combat in this game is mostly dialogue based but that doesn’t mean there is not a lot of action suspense in the plot.

The best thing about the game is the music, it is an amazing soundtrack and truly solidifies the setting as this small town where the days are mostly peaceful and everybody knows everybody. Square Enix has truly demonstrated that they are capable of taking the decision making episodic format and allowing to create your own storyline, especially considering how the ending features one of the biggest decisions that give two different endings. I admit I became emotionally committed to these characters and the major decisions of the game required long moments of debate.

For all you gamers that enjoy lots of dialogue and exploring to unlock new lines or world building like I do, I completely recommend this game to you. It is a title I never tire of playing over and over again and cannot wait for this universe to continue its expansion through character and setting.

Score: 5 out of 5

Manga Classics: Les Miserables

This classics has gone through a multitude of adaptation through different mediums, from stage performances to the film and this manga is no exception to being a beautiful adaptation.

If you are unfamiliar with the novel, it was published 1862 by French writer Victor Hugo and is considered one of the most brilliant written works of the 19th century. The novel is definitely a tricky read, meaning you may read it the first time having no idea what you just looked at, but once you take in the plot you will agree that the story is one filled with much emotional turmoil and affection for the characters. There are a handful of characters the plot focuses on, but the primary story follows an ex-convict named Jean Valjean who is on a journey of redemption in a world plagued with poverty and unkindness that seems determined to not let Jean escape his past.

This Manga Classics edition is perfect for those that enjoyed reading the novel but would still like to see an adaptation with a less intense format. Thanks to the team at NetGalley, I was able to take a look at a reader’s copy of the manga and was pleasantly surprised how much I was taken to the manga within just a few pages. As someone that read the original novel over five years ago, I still found myself feeling shock and anger at the event depicted on the pages. It was difficult to imagine a manga art style being able to capture this historical text, but I was disproven and found the art held up the original writing and even clarified points in the plot I could never quite get right in the reading.

This adaptation is especially useful to student and educators reading the original text and may be experiencing some difficulty processing or breaking down the reading. Jean Valjean goes through multiple names in the plot as he escapes his past, so seeing his journey visibly makes it easier to keep track.

This manga works well as an introduction to the Victor Hugo novel as it avoids the dense parts of the original to focus on the bigger plot points of the story. Because there is so much going on in the story to fit in this manga, the pacing is a bit fast as time is constantly being manipulated in order to speed the timeline of the plot’s entirety. You can notice at times that the manga is clearly trying to quickly get to the more tense moments of the plot, which unfortunately cuts time from the more slow and emotional scenes.

Overall, the manga was a great adaptation and I recommend it to those who enjoy the original novel or would like to know the plot but have no desire to read the original text.

Dear Jane

A young woman plagued with a past filled with memories of pain and loneliness, Kit Kat is once again thrust into a world where although she feels love and gratitude toward her new life, she lacks the support system she so desires and needs. Dear Jane is a beautiful coming-of-age story about the meaning of maternal bonds, a desire to hold onto an identity, and ultimately, the ability to forgive yourself and others.

Dear Jane is not a simple read and will leave you shaking your head in shock and anger. The novel touches on very heavy topics from emotional abuse to physical trauma and the voice of the young woman secretly sharing her experiences in a series of letters creates a bigger impact. From start to finish, I couldn’t find myself putting the book down and became emotionally committed to Kit Kat’s journey and emotional growth as she struggles to stand up for herself and ultimately save herself from those she sought love from. The novel is unafraid of details and warn readers that it goes into graphic details of abuse and self harm, and implore to take into mind that this novel is not a story of escape, but rather one of being incapable of escaping memories and trauma.

Special thanks to the teams at Black Rose Writing and NetGalley for providing me with a reviewer’s copy of the novel and I encourage you to check out this book for yourself.

Marina DelVecchio was a former English teachers now teaching at a North Carolina community college. She has an MS in English and Secondary Education from Queen College in New York. She has been a recipient of several awards and has had several works published including those from The Huffington Post, The New Agenda, and BlogHer.  

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Having only seen Peter Parker brought to the big screen, it was extremely exciting getting to see other spider characters brought into this film. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a beautifully animated film that I can only describe as a homage to comic books. I went in expecting to watch a good movie and came out having decided that this is my favorite film this year. 

Miles Morales and SpiderMan 

Miles Morales is a teenager from Brooklyn that finds himself joining a team of spider superheroes after he is bitten by a radioactive spider. Son to a nurse and a police officer, he is put under a lot of pressure and expectations as he struggles to find joy in his life while fulfilling his parents’ wishes at the same time. Attending a school that he describes as elitist, Miles feels the stress of being expected to do well at this school when he feels that he is not being accepted into the setting. He thinks highly of his uncle who he secretly visits when sneaking off the school campus, and is able to freely share his passion for art with his uncle who encourages his artistic talents. While placing his latest design in an abandoned part of the subway, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider which begins his transition to a spider powered hero. 

Our heroes are brought together after villain Wilson Fisk’s underground experiments rips holes through dimensions, forcibly bringing different versions of SpiderMan into Miles’ dimension. What makes this movie unique is its way of treating its atmosphere. The film treats itself as though we were looking at a comic book and does something I would describe as remixing images through vibrancy in colors and shapes. From noises being written across the screen to the comic book style narrative boxes, you never forget that you are watching a comic book being brought to life. I initially thought the movie would be quick to be an eyesore, but I found I couldn’t have enough of this animation and enjoyed just how bright the colors were and how these changes in dimensions become these colorful shapes. 

Miles Morales’ parents are key elements to the film and his identity and I appreciated that there was a slow buildup of the plot before Miles was even bitten by the spider. His parents, Rio Morales and Jefferson Davis, are part of his struggles with confidence, though it is never indicated that his parents are anything other than caring about their son. Rio Morales is a Puerto Rican woman that is a nurse and seems indifferent about SpiderMan, and is married to African-American police officer Jefferson Davis who is vocal about his dislike for SpiderMan. Miles’ father’s dislike of the superhero prevent him from revealing his powers to him and ultimately leaves Miles with the stress of having an entire team of spider superheroes yet still feeling alone and incapable of living up to his new abilities’ responsibilities. 

Into the Spider-Verse can be taken as a game-changer for the superhero genre of film and leaves me excited to see what else can be done with the comic books that have yet to have their own film. It is a great watch for both comic and non-comic fans, but comic book fans can definitely appreciate the love and care that went into making sure this movie was true to the comic books. 

I completely recommend you watch this movie for yourself, appreciate its beauty and go watch it again! Also if you are not familiar with superhero films, make sure you stick around at the end of the movie for a hidden ending after the credits. 

Godshaper

In a world where the law of the universe no longer apply, every person finds themselves with a god, a manifestation of their wealth and social status. But with every situation there is an exception. There exists those who are incapable of possessing a god, yet have the ability to manipulate other people’s gods, called godshapers. 

Ennay is a godshaper, he is seen as the lowest of the low in society, yet he is needed in order for the possessor of gods to be able to adjust their gods to their satisfaction. Alongside him is Bud, another exception to his new world as Bud is capable of thriving without needing of a human to worship him. The two are a strange but powerful pair as their existence doesn’t seem to apply to the rules of society, much to the dislike of many. 

This series is one of the most beautifully illustrated stories I have ever read. There is so much color from the people and the setting, even the gods seem to glow with these unnatural colors, making them appear to stand out on the pages. By brilliant glow to the gods solidifies the idea that behind every person is a god, which is what stands out the most, because in order to strut your importance, you must make your god stand out above everyone else. 

This story a beautifully way of showing the materialistic ways of society and how society has come to worship the wealthy just as these possessors of gods use their gods as a means of wealth and self-importance, becoming dependent on these beings. It is also no coincidence that this plot features a black main character. Ennay isn’t regarded as a lower being because of his skin color, but the treatment he received from others is near identical to the treatment of people of color in today’s society, especially with the wealthier class. 
What is unique about Ennay is that he is a main character doesn’t aim to change the way he is being looked at. If anything, he is completely obeying the rules of society and is determined to get away from it all and make money while participating in these underground musical events in which he feels can truly be free and unjudged. It isn’t until he and Bud become part of something bigger that he begins to notice the way society now function for him and everyone else. He experience a desire to be like everyone in society but then comes to realize that simply because the majority of society works a certain way, it doesn’t mean it is the way it should be.

This is a story that definitely requires a slow reading in order to appreciate the colors of the illustrations. Ennay’s occasional change of appearance is beautifully illustrated as his sexuality and expression of self is depicted on the pages. You can’t help but appreciate the obvious time and effort taken into creating this masterpiece. I completely recommend this graphic novel to you and hope it makes you drop your jaws in awe as it did for me.