Author Archives: ochippie

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Movie Review – A Bridge Too Far

Category : Movie Review

Director: Richard Attenborough

Starring: Everyone

Year: 1977

Where The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Great Escape succeeded, A Bridge Too Far failed.  Although, those former two are POW movies, where the latter is about active warfare, so perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare it to two more modern features, like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.  Those succeeded as well, where A Bridge Too Far failed again, so, perhaps no matter how you look at it, this 70s battle drama simply didn’t work.  Director Richard Attenborough seemed more concerned with bringing us reenactments of a scale we had never seen before, and while that’s all well & good, he forgot that we require a little more from cinema.  Maybe he thought the true tale would bolster the film, and that he wouldn’t need standard plot pieces and good acting to help audiences to the finish line; if so he was simply wrong.

In the fall of 1944, the Allies were winning the war.  D-Day had been a dramatic success, with American forces streaming across the beaches of Normandy, liberating France, and driving toward Berlin.  But that’s where the march ended, too far west of Germany, where supply lines began to stretch far too thin and cold weather grinned grimly over the horizon.  Without being able to finish the end, the Allies began to worry, but the British had a plan.  It was called Operation Market Garden, and the aim was to invade into enemy territory throughout the Netherlands, taking the Rhine by taking its bridges, and therefore creating an easy path to the heart of Germany; war over by Christmas.  But what followed was a disaster as bad as Dunkirk, a complete bungle of a strategy that seemed so foolproof.

Attenborough was in The Great Escape, he should have known what a WWII movie should look like, but he just wasn’t able to reproduce that same caliber.  He relied far too heavily on history, just opening the book and hoping we’d enjoy what we were reading.  Now, I’m a history buff, I love World War facts, I know about this campaign, but to watch a film about it I need something other than pure reenactment and troop deployment, no matter the scale; I need theatre.  A Bridge Too Far is only a chance to showcase old planes and equipment, to paint us a living picture, maybe to bring heroes to life, which is all well and good, but you hardly need even to tun the volume on, you could watch with no aim but to see some guns being fired at some brick walls.  That’s not enough, not if you want to make anything other than a History Channel original, and not having this amazing of a cast at your disposal and doing almost nothing with them.  The names are astounding: Sean Connery, Ryan O’Neal, Gene Hackman, Michael Caine, Anthony Hopkins, James Caan, Elliott Gould, Denholm Elliott, Michael Byrne, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, John Ratzenberger, Edward Fox, Hardy Kruger.  But they almost none of them did any acting, what little there was was poor, and nothing was available to help them make audiences believe they were anything by big names cast as real people.  A Bridge Too Far is your average dad’s perfect movie, because he likes telling you WWII trivia and he likes Gene Hackman, but that doesn’t mean it’s a film for the rest of us, or for anyone who notices the details of the craft over the details of the recount.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Mighty Ducks

Category : Movie Review

Director: Stephen Herek

Starring: Emilio Estevez, Joshua Jackson, Shaun Weiss

Year: 1992

Herek gave us some icons in the late 80s & early 90s, even if none of them were really that good.  Critters, Bill & Ted, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, The Mighty Ducks, The Three Musketeers, Mr. Holland’s Opus; solid gold time capsule material but, really, aren’t we just using nostalgia to gloss over quality?  Rewatching Mighty Ducks was fun but also affirming, because this era and this genre wasn’t as great as it was when we were the perfect age to love it, which calls it all into perspective.  But it doesn’t make it worthless, I’m not saying that; my kids had a super time watching this ragtag hockey team play their hearts out, and that’s, in the end, all that matters (the fact that Emilio Estevez should never have been allowed in front of a camera not withstanding).

Gordon Bombay is a former peewee league hockey superstar in the state of Minnesota; he could have gone all the way were it not for one fateful missed shot.  But now he’s a lawyer, and if you asked him he’d say he hates hockey; he equates it with the year his father died and the tournament his team didn’t win.  Gordon wins his cases though, through whatever means necessary, he sees losing as a weakness, until his high stress job catches up with him when he’s ordered to do community service and to take a sabbatical from work.  His penance; coach a local kids hockey team, and not just any team, but the worst one in the entire city.  With a little love, and a little corporate sponsorship, this motley crew could be something special, if only their coach could confront his past, learn from his mistakes, and take them to the very top.

Mighty Ducks is a combination sports movie and kids flick, like Rudy meets Blank Check, and that’s fine for what it’s worth, and we can still love it for the memories it gave us when we were young.  Cake-eater, the Flying V, Banks and Goldberg and Charlie, Gordon Bombay, the quack attack; these things will live on in cinematic infamy forever, and that’s the way it should be, because they were at the same time very silly and somehow quite awesome.  The cast was crappy, the direction was bad, the plot was thin, but none of that seemed to matter, and it didn’t bother my kids much either; they had a blast rooting for a team while also watching a movie, which is a unique experience if you really think about it.  I can’t recommend too many adults revisiting this childhood fav, because I think the chance of a letdown is great, but I also think that there are pieces to be enjoyed as long as you have a captive audience that you’re willing to live through, and enough memories of your own long-ago captivation to get you to the end.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Thought – The Best Films Streaming

Category : Thought

I’m not taking this lightly, but during this difficult time we can all use a little distraction.  So, during semi-quarantine, what better job for a film critic than to recommend films that are available in your own home, so here we go.  Sticking to Netflix and Amazon Prime, here are some of the best options for movies to stream right now, for families and also for grownups, with links to its IMDb page and to my review, if written.  Have fun, and stay safe!

 


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Movie Review – Training Day

Category : Movie Review

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Denzel Washington

Year: 2001

Antoine Fuqua came from directing music videos to creating one of the hardest hitting crime dramas of the new millennium …and he’s done almost nothing good since.  Southpaw for sure, but that’s about it, and even that it forgettable, as has become Fuqua’s filmography after a very promising start.  Training Day was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Actor and Best Supporting, and Denzel won, which tells you all you need to know about this excellent movie; it is dominated by the two leading men, and they are both quite brilliant.  In fact, this performance is known as Denzel’s best, or at least one of his very best, since his illustrious career has been so spectacular: Glory, Philadelphia, Crimson Tide, Remember the Titans, Man on Fire, Fences.  He puts on a showcase here, but is bolstered by a fine film with special features around every corner, resulting in something pretty monumental.

Young LAPD officer Jake Hoyt reports for his new assignment with narcotics detective Alonzo Harris, a decorated veteran who runs a squad of five men who keep the streets clean by becoming denizens of the dark themselves.  It’s not angelic, but it’s effective, and Alonzo quickly sees the spark within Jake to do some actual good, perhaps by getting his hands a little dirty.  For Jake, the initiation quickly maxes out his tolerance for violence and for bending the rules, even though he can see that there might be some method to Alonzo’s madness.  Over the course of one fateful day, the new duo will have to navigate the city’s underbelly, as well as each other’s personalities, as they toe the line of morality.

I made it sound like they were into all that trouble together; Alonso is the one willing to bribe, abuse, lie, and kill to get what he wants, which he claims is taking down the big fish, ignoring the little ones that don’t do as much harm.  Jake is having more trouble accepting that “reality”, especially on his first day on the job.  That’s what makes this film so interesting, the dynamic between these two men, and the sides they represent.  The movie turns out to be much more violent and action-packed, but that’s only awesome once the groundwork has been laid, and Faqua lays it out very well.  The music, the machismo, the city, the conversations; this is a big moment in cinema, a stamp on the year and on the genre that will never be rubbed away.  Hawke & Washington are great, but the cameos work well too, in a way cameos seldom do: Scott Glenn, Tom Berenger, Cliff Curtis, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Macy Gray, Eva Mendes, Terry Crews.  Training Day is an all-around icon with a masterful and memorable performance from Denzel, a film that rocks, rolls, and delivers with power.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Great Escape

Category : Movie Review

Director: John Sturges

Starring: Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough

Year: 1963

The Great Escape was released in the summer of 1963 and we STILL haven’t seen its equal.  The Bridge on the River Kwai is close and was made first, Saving Private Ryan is a modern miracle and depicted the same period, but there’s something special about The Great Escape that I don’t think will ever be repeated; I guess that’s the sign of a true masterpiece.  Because, not only did this film get war right (and from a unique perspective), but it combined so many other elements that make cinema hum into one specific, shining gem, and you can see that as readily and as obviously as popping in the DVD and opening your eyes.

As WWII rages on, American, British, and Allied soldiers that are captured by the Germans during battle are held prisoner in camps deep behind enemy lines, kept for the duration of the war as POWs.  They aren’t treated terribly, they are afforded certain amenities, especially the officers, who are asked to lead their men with decorum and dignity, even as they are captives of the Nazi machine.  But Allied troops have sworn an oath not to go down without a fight; their mission, while being held prisoner, is to harass the enemy, to require the highest number of guards possible, to cause chaos when they can, and, basically, to escape.  This is the true story of a group of officers known for their elusive abilities, rounded up in one super-fortified camp, all the rotten eggs in one basket, and told that their disruptive actions must cease.  Instead, what came next was a massively organized mass breakout that would go down in the history books as one of the most daring moments of the entire war.

This tale isn’t fanciful, it’s simply real, and it tells of the brave men who were willing to risk their lives, when they had already lost their freedom, to fight against their common enemy with whatever means were at their disposal.  That meant escape, or at least attempted escape, and their mission would become a thing of legend, that we get to watch happen because of this amazing film.  The Great Escape is part true story, part war drama, with all the added elements you could ever want; incredible music, stunning realism, moments of light entertainment, and times of great sadness.  And then there’s the cast, which is simply stellar: McQueen, Garner, Attenborough, James Donald, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, Gordon Jackson.  It’s epic, it’s easy, it’s funny, it’s heart-breaking, and it’s always pushing forward toward an ending that you’ll have to see & feel to believe.  So many films deserve to be called classic, but very few deserve it as much as The Great Escape.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Onward

Category : Movie Review

Director: Dan Scanlon

Starring: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt

Year: 2020

I had prepared myself for a lesser Pixar event with the release of Onward, which was being compared to Finding Dory or The Good Dinosaur; great for regular movies, bottom of the barrel for what this animation studio is capable of.  And I accepted that on face value because it sounded reasonable; not every movie can be WALL-E or Inside Out.  But then I remembered something; I really REALLY liked Finding Dory and The Good Dinosaur, I actually thought they were better than most of the Toy Story franchise, so maybe Onward was made exactly for me and for my family.  Turns out, it most definitely was.  This film is everything that I want from the heartwarming entertainment genre: a standard recipe that still dares to explore, a kids flick that isn’t afraid to reach for the feels, an honest portrayal of emotions with the humor to make it easily palatable. I guess Disney did it again, and there’s no real reason that we should be surprised.

The world was once full of magic, but even something as wonderful as that can lose its popularity, and now magical creatures live very normal lives, complete with electricity, school, and theme restaurants.  When young elf Ian turns 16, it’s revealed to him & his brother Barley that their dad was an amateur magician, before his untimely death.  All the boys want is to see their dad one last time, and it seems that there’s a way; their dad left them with a magic staff and a spell that will bring him back for 24 hours.  Problem is, when Ian tries the trick and discovers that he has the gift, the spell is only completed half way, meaning only half a father figure.  He & Barley must now embark upon an ancient-style quest in order to finish the feat, reproduce their pop, and experience that which they’ve both been longing for.

Onward doesn’t need your caveat; it’s just plain good.  It might not be as good as the top, top tier, but Pixar knows what they are doing, and they did it right again here, with a tale that’s literally fun for the whole family.  Not only that, not only is it an entertaining time, but it also has the heart to pull the story onto that next level, where adults will find themselves shedding a small tear as they melt with nostalgia and/or regret.  I choked up a bit at the end; there’s a powerful message being told and you don’t even realize it, not until the climax, and then you’re just at its mercy.  Onward is all that emotion, with humor to compliment and an adventure to enjoy; the complete Disney package.  Add in animation that will rival anything you’ve seen from this team before and you’re in for one heck on an after-school screening.

The family plot arc is what drives the emotion, and it’s what got to me.  But it’s Chris Pratt who drives the characters down the right path with his tenor, and he who becomes the shining star of the film.  Think what you want of him off screen, and I can say I have my issues with his religion, but on screen he is a delight; think Emmet from The Lego Movie, cause, duh.  Tom Holland is also great, Spider-Man and Star-Lord teaming up once again, and they really do make a nice pair.  The rest of the cast is intriguing at least: Julia Louis-Dreyfus & Mel Rodriguez are spectacular, Octavia Spencer struggles, there’s an openly gay role which I applaud, some other minor cameos.  All in all a good cast with great leads, not a group of celebrities that will go down in cinematic history.  But they didn’t need to; the movie speaks for itself with its magic, its clever construction, and with its underlying heart, a message that marvelously moves the plot toward an extremely exciting conclusion.  You never can tell, but I don’t project Onward to win any Academy Awards, but that’s not all there is; families will fall in love with this film for all the things it does right, and it’s quite a long list.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Invisible Man

Category : Movie Review

Director: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid

Year: 2020

The Film Community is all about Elisabeth Moss right now, and I honestly can’t figure out why.  Maybe because they liked Handmaid’s Tale?  Because it can’t be her acting; every performance she gives is one note, that note usually being “generally upset”.  That’s not acting, that’s playing; I will admit that she can play a character, but I really don’t think she’s a talented actor, those things are very different.  Admittedly, I’m hard on actors and actresses, that’s an area that I focus firmly on when I’m watching a movie, and although I don’t have experience in the industry, my limited acting/theatre experience pushes me to be extra critical.  Moss simply doesn’t have it, which I know puts me in the minority for thinking, which is fine, I don’t mind, and which also doesn’t completely stop a film she appears in from being good.  Example; The Invisible Man, an entertaining flick that doesn’t require a Daniel Day-Lewis/Amy Adams performance to succeed, thankfully.

Cecilia is in an abusive relationship that has kept her trapped in a marriage she despises for years.  She can hardly think of leaving; every time she does she can feel her husband Adrian reading her mind, preparing to hurt her more, dominating her every decision.  He controls all her thoughts and actions, it’s a cycle she doesn’t know how to escape, and it’s slowly killing her.  So, one night, with minimal planning, she dares to escape, and seems to make it to her sister’s ex-husband’s place with her life & freedom intact.  But has she?  Because, soon after, Adrian kills himself, which would seem like the ultimate exhale, but Cecilia knows better.  She knows that he would never do that, and that he’s a brilliant scientist besides, working on an “optics” project that could change the world, and destroy Cecilia’s life.

So, Elisabeth Moss.  I don’t want to focus on her too much, because, like with any good horror movie, the lead actor doesn’t have to be Oscar-worthy in order to sell us on the idea that they are terrified, that the psycho who is after them has them running for their life.  I mean, I think most of us could play that part, most professionals in Hollywood could for sure, and Moss can as well, she does an absolutely fine job with what is asked of her here.  My issue arises when critics begin hailing Moss as the second coming, when they start talking about awards, when they go all-in on an actress who I just don’t think it strong enough to deserve the hype.  Moss is fine, she is fine for this role, and fine is good enough for this film, but she’s not the legend she is somehow growing to be; I don’t know how that got started but it needs to end.

Now, on to the film, which is everything you would wish it to be if you’re coming in, sitting down, and expecting a solid thriller.  Knives sliding off counter tops, trips to the attic, no one believing you, foggy mirrors; it’s all there, they leave nothing out, and so audiences will be pleased.  The scares are good, the feel is spooky, the sci-fi balances out the horror, the tech is cool, and the sound is intense; all the makings of a fun ride are here and they all work.  Aldis Hodge is the lone bright spot as far as acting goes though; Moss is over-the-top, Reid is as bad as she was in A Wrinkle in Time, Harriet Dyer as abysmal, and the Griffin bros. were throwaway.  Also, the writing wasn’t spectacular, wasn’t clever, which didn’t help Moss be Cecilia, she seems to constantly be fighting against the dialogue.  The Invisible Man was simply nice when it could have been awesome, it just wasn’t brought up a notch like others that have become the horror movie of their year; you might hear that this one is, but I don’t agree, I’d recommend Underwater instead, which is also a genre flick but built with better tools.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Other Guys

Category : Movie Review

Director: Adam McKay

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrell

Year: 2010

You can buy the DVD of The Other Guys for under four bucks, regularly priced at seven, and, I know it’s been out 10 years, but that price is saying something.  It’s shouting loudly and clearly that this movie is simply not good, and that is awfully accurate.  Adam McKay, bless him, but he’s done things he ought to have to repent for when the end days come, including this film, which might be his very worst yet.  The dude digs Will Ferrell, which is fine, I do too, but sometimes the humor just doesn’t work, sometimes you have to check yourself before you wreck yourself, and that includes not making this terrible movie, one that shouldn’t have made it past a regrettable brain storm session.

New York’s finest detectives are a duo named Danson & Highsmith; unfortunately those aren’t the guys this movie is about.  No, those guys actually take down criminals, are actually cool, and know what the hell it is they’re doing, although they might like to blow stuff up a little too much.  Our wannabe heroes are Hoitz & Gamble, a pair of desk jockeys who never get the big assignment, because everyone knows they’ll screw it up.  Well they’re about to stumble into something deep, a crime that climbs to the very top, and their ineptness might be the key to staying under the radar long enough to make the bust of the century.

It’s hard to summarize this movie because the plot is so stupid; two crappy cops accidentally crack the case and become friends.  Oh yeah, and a lot of very stupid stuff happens along the way, things you don’t want to remember because they’re mostly embarrassing.  That real stars were a part of this idiotic film is kinda shocking; even McKay & Ferrell don’t usually stoop this low.  Their comedy can be fun, McKay can make real cinema as well, but The Other Guys is just a bad joke from start to finish, with a supporting cast/cameo list that’s just one big name drop, not an asset in any way: Wahlberg, Ferrell, Derek Jeter, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Ray Stevenson, Samuel L. Jackson, The Rock, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans, Steve Coogan, Bobby Cannavale, Zoe Lister-Jones, Zach Woods.  It’s a stupid mess rather than an entertaining bumble, a movie not worth remembering for the few laughs it accidentally elicits.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Somebody Up There Likes Me

Category : Movie Review

Director: Bob Byington

Starring: Keith Poulson, Nick Offerman, Jess Weixler

Year: 2012

Somebody Up There Likes Me is a sneakily spectacular movie, like a Wes Anderson film you didn’t see coming but that also kinda blew you away.  I imagine, if I could go back and watch Rushmore again, I would feel similarly, like I had just seen something wacky/wonderful and wanted to tell people about it.  That’s a sign of something special if ever there was one, and that’s the sense this movie carries throughout, only building more & more uniquely & pleasantly as it goes along, never faltering in or apologizing for delivering a consistently bizarre reality.  Other than Offerman/Mullally, this team didn’t go on to do great things, but they did do one thing rather greatly, a little gem that we can go back and revisit any time we want, and for that I am genuinely thankful.

Max is an unmitigated loser, his life has been a disaster so far, and the passing of time isn’t likely to change that.  He got married at a young age; that ended badly.  He has a job at a steakhouse; that’s pretty stupid.  His only friend is a much older co-worker who also can’t do anything right; they might be made for each other.  And even though a cute girl named Lyla seems to understand Max’s personal brand of insanity, even that won’t stand the test of time; what does?  Life moves on from one tragedy to the next, always with just enough humor and hope to keep you reaching for the next adventure, even if every one up till now has been a complete failure.  But, almost despite yourself, you’re bound to meet people, make memories, and even change destinies along the way, whether or not you have any knowledge as to what the hell you’re doing.

I’m not saying that Bob Byington is Wes Anderson, and maybe it’s more a matter of borrowing heavily than making the same impact, but there are some definite early-Anderson vibes here, in the characters, their language, and the overall mood of the movie, just minus the color pink.  Even the music is somehow cute and heart-breaking at the same time, and there’s a little movement aid to bring us the new chapters of the story, and the actors bring that same forlorn energy; it’s reminiscent for sure.  But it’s also special on its own; the way Max never ages, the secret of the suitcase, the oddball comedy, Offerman’s patented style of gruff heart.  There’s a lot to like about Somebody Up There Likes Me, and the way that you don’t see it coming only adds to its impact.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Book Review – A Place for Us

Category : Book Review

Author: Fatima Farheen Mirza

Year: 2018

Kurt Vonnegut said that what women want people around for is to have more humans to talk to, and what men want people around for is to have more pals.  Vonnegut is a genius, so we should take his word on basically everything, but in this I understand completely what he means and I completely agree.  Women want to talk, men want to hang out, and that subtle difference is exhibited in the books we typical enjoy reading; women want books that give them someone new to talk to them, men want books that give them somewhere new to hang out.  Obviously that’s narrow and maybe even sexist, but I also think it’s generally true, which is what I mean when I say that a book is written for women or written for men; I don’t mean the other simply can’t enjoy it, I mean that it was written from a place of inescapable Vonnegutian Philosophy, that’s all.  A Place for Us is a novel sculpted in the manner of conversation over transportation, which might appeal to one group over another, but ultimately shouldn’t stop anyone from reading, enjoying, and, perhaps, taking away something very special.

We are invited to become temporary members of a Muslim family living in California, even while they go through their darkest times.  Coming from India, and a place of culture and tradition, the family succeeds in finding a community in their new home but struggles to balance the outside way with the way things are run inside their home, made more difficult as their three children grow older and begin to make choices of their own.  Rafiq is the father, a strict man who believes in the value of the old ways.  Layla is the mother, trying to keep a happy home in a place she fears will pull her family apart.  The children are Hadia, Huda, and the youngest, a boy named Amar, who will have the hardest time getting older and making good choices, as he struggles against the bonds of religion and clashes with a father he feels will never understand the strain of being a young Muslim in an evolving America.

This book in an example of storytelling over storymaking, and it’s your job to decide which of those you’d rather read.  Here, we are placed within a family, we watch them change through the years, we see their moments of success and of misery, we begin to understand the difficulties of their journey and why they are the people they have come to be.  It feels very personal, like a true story, and I’m sure much of it is, at least in a sense, and that will be a huge positive for those looking for immersion into a unique narrative, for those who like a book to speak to them as if in conversation.  But for those looking for more, look elsewhere.  The physical writing of this novel is weak, it’s far too conversational and episodic, like it was told off the cuff without much effort to elevate the text beyond speech.  And learning about traditional Indian-Muslim practices was not something I was interested in (for full disclosure, the closest “ism” that describes my beliefs is antitheism), so every italicized term just threw me more off the course of what little plot there was, and made me dread what religious term I had to hear about next.  I will say this though; Part Four, which was from the father’s point of view, and basically read like an open letter to the son, was spectacular.  It summed up everything the book had been trying to say, it made it all much more realistic and emotional, and was almost enough to get me to say that I loved the novel as a whole.  But I didn’t; the majority of it was almost amateurish and sometimes dull, a story being told instead of constructed, when what I typically want is a pulling of my mind into a place that doesn’t exist until it’s written.  Still, I will never forget that ending, one of the best I’ve ever experienced, and pretty much worth the rest of the read, which I never hated, but didn’t enjoy as much as others assuredly will.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆