Origin by Dan Brown Review

Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Origin follows Robert Langdon on his 5th adventure into art history and religious zealotry. This time one of his former students has made a discovery that will have profound implications on the lives of everyone. Most of all it could threaten the current paradigm in place for all religions. There are many religious zealots who are trying to stop him from announcing what he has found.

A lot of the plot devices Brown uses are beginning to become stale for me as well as the Robert Langdon character. He links the character to the story through a former student. How many of his former students are going to be involved in something potentially earth shattering? Every time Langdon seems to get paired with a woman that fits the model mold, but also is intelligent. Langdon has to teach her something as he figures out the majority of the puzzles. In the end there is always some sort of awkward parting between the two as if Langdon, who is double the age of the woman he is paired with, could have a relationship with the girl who is presented as a trophy that he never claims. It is written as something innocent, but is revolting to me as it continues to be a theme throughout his novels, and Origin is no exception.

The story itself has quite a few issues as well. The pacing of the story is uneven with large portions of the novel dragging to nearly a complete halt. Parts show religious leaders freaking out because of the presentation of this new discovery being imminent, but you have no idea what it is. Then it also shows Langdon touring an art museum for a few chapters. The action picks up a bit when the action begins, but soon after the story stalls out again. The pages within are thick with anti-religious rhetoric as well.

What saves this novel is the ending and the actual discovery that Langdon’s former student made. It relies on potential scientific discoveries, but the logic behind it is interesting. For me it was initially mind blowing with the potential of how things work in the universe. The discovery itself and the end made it worth it for me to push through the large portions of the novel that dragged along and the nagging annoyances I have with Brown’s novels. I am not sure if Brown will ever recapture the magic he hit with Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code.

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The House With A Clock In Its Walls Review

A young child named Lewis is sent to live with his eccentric Uncle after his parents die in an accident. When he arrives he finds that his uncle is just as strange as he had been told and the old house the uncle lives in is quite strange with a unique parenting style. There are no rules in the house except to not open one locked cabinet. Uncle Jonathan is hiding something from the child and his neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman, tells him that they need to tell Lewis. It turns out that she is a witch and Uncle Jonathan is a warlock. The house used to belong to a fellow warlock who had hidden a mysterious clock in the walls. They don’t know what it means when it strikes midnight or how to find it.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is a tale of magic and possible impending doo. A lot of the film reminds me of the Harry Potter film franchise, but without the deep world building. It seems like this was made to be a stand alone film that could become a franchise if it somehow made enough money to justify a continued series. Jack Black does what he does best, which is playing a bumbling fool with a good heart. He is a perfect match for anything silly or whimsical. He is matched with Cate Blanchett who can play any role, but I love her more as a villain. Her hate glare is one of the best in the business. The script for this film isn’t perfect, but it is fun. The special effects are a bit cartoony, but they work for a film like this.

This is a decent family movie that is filled with magic and whimsy. You can tell it is made for a younger audience though and that holds it back from going darker and raising the stakes too high. The movie is still a lot of fun and most will enjoy it for what it is. 

Assassination Nation Review

Lily and her 3 best friends navigate the perils of high school in Assassination Nation. At the beginning they announce that their crew might not survive the film, and somehow the entire town will be out to kill them. The girls talk about who is sexting who and go to parties. Then a hacker reveals the mayor’s deepest darkest secret which gets everyone talking. The hacker doesn’t stop there though and no one is safe. The girls get involved as some of their secrets are revealed and the entire town rallies against them.

Assassination Nation is a slight exaggeration of how women are treated in America, but if you have been paying attention, it is not too far off from the truth. It is an interesting social commentary filled with teen angst. It also attacks the rage that many people express on the internet based on accusations that have no basis in fact. It shows how people can be driven to do crazy things when they are scared. It also shows how people who are victims can be treated just as harshly as those who are guilty or those who are proven to be hypocrites. Even though the film feels like a low budget action/survival/mystery film, it leaves you with a lot to think about. The 4 main characters can be quite stylish with some clever 1 liners thrown in, but they all have the awkward teen aura that suggests bad decisions are coming. That teen awkwardness also makes the movie feel more realistic even with the over the top/in your face messaging sprinkled throughout.

While Assassination Nation is not the best film from a production standpoint, it manages to still be entertaining. The script covers a wide range of social subjects that aren’t commonly seen on the big screen which is kind of refreshing even with the teenaged ranting thrown in. If you are anti-feminist or are anti-LGBTQ+ then you should watch this film, but you probably won’t like it even though it has a lot of guns and shooting once the town turns into a mob. Assassination Nation is as entertaining as a B-movie can be with the large amount of social commentary that is packed into it.

A Simple Favor Review

Stephanie is a single mother who has poured all her energy into being the perfect mom to her son. She volunteers for nearly everything at school. Her son makes a friend whose mother never volunteers for anything, until both of the children beg for a play date together. The other mother, Emily, relents and invites Stephanie for a drink while the kids play. They become unlikely friends and Stephanie begins to do favors for Emily as she has an important job. One day Emily asks Stephanie to pick up her son from school as she has a work emergency that she can’t get out of. Emily disappears after that. As Stephanie digs into the mystery she finds that she never really knew her friend at all.

All of the performances in this film are fantastic, but I have to give a special mention to one of my favorite actresses, Anna Kendrick. If only she could rap along to Mobb Deep while driving in every movie. This movie is a slow burn thriller that is similar to Gone Girl or The Usual Suspects. You get bits and pieces as part of the cat and mouse game that the two main characters play. The movie does have some pacing issues as the editor let it run on a bit long in the early parts of the film. It does help to set up the story, but could have been shaved down just a bit. Still, what makes this film spark is the chemistry between Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. I would love to see them work together again.

A Simple Favor is a fantastic slow burn thriller in the same vein as some of the classics that have come before it. The thing that sets it apart from movies like Gone Girl is the chemistry between the two leads with much of the film relying on it. The cat and mouse exchanges between the two can be quite engaging. This definitely ranks among one of my favorite movies of the year thus far.

White Boy Rick Review

White Boy Rick follows the true story of Rick Wershe who grew up in the mean streets of New York in the 1980’s. He began as a gun hustler with his father who was a licensed dealer. They sold guns and silencers that they built to drug dealers to get by. After selling some AK-47s to some local drug dealers he becomes friends with some of them. Eventually he becomes a drug dealer himself and an informant for the FBI.

This could have been a heartbreaking story of how a boy got corrupted by his circumstances, but it doesn’t try to sympathize too much with the main characters. The characters are still criminals. Richie Merritt does a great job of portraying an awkward teen trying to do the best he can even though he’s a bit of a knucklehead that makes bad decisions. His performance alone makes the movie feel real even though it hasn’t been polished as much as Matthew McConaughey. It’s the rough edges that make it special.

The movie is an entertaining piece of drug and crime history during the crack epidemic in the 80’s. It isn’t any better or worse than the drug movies we have seen previously. The performance by Merritt is stellar, which is good because mich of the movie depends on it.

The Predator Review

A spaceship is fired upon by another. It jumps through a rip in space/time to escape. It crashes on Earth. Some soldiers were on a mission in the area and they take a few bits of the Predator’s armor. It wakes up and starts chasing them. Yep, they should have worn their brown pants. Some scientists call up Olivia Munn because someone decided she should star in this and she has to study alien parts. The other spaceship shows up and another larger Predator shows up to hunt down the first Predator. The plot thickens.

The Predator tries really hard to summon the look and feel of the first 2 Predator movies and the Predators revival, but falls a bit short. It feels more like a crappy 3rd movie in a trilogy, kind of like Spiderman 3 or X-Men The Last Stand. It is still better than both of the AvP movies that were both massive squandered opportunities. The characters are mismatched with most of the film following a bunch of ex-military mental patients. I must say that Thomas Jane’s performance helps make several of the best parts of the film. This introduces a campiness that was a hallmark of 80’s action films. The Predator franchise has always been somber and serious, and that is patently missing from this film. I also could have gone without an introduction to Predadogs. Seriously…  wtf.

The Predator is still worth seeing if you are a fan of the franchise. It is entertaining, but not as good as it could have been. Some questionable decisions in the script have detracted from the usual tone of the franchise, and ultimately makes this one of the lesser entries into the series.

Peppermint Review

Jennifer Garner plays a woman who works a day job while balancing a life with a daughter and husband. She’s basically already a superhero. A friend of her husband’s tries to get him into some kind of shady deal. He refuses to participate, but the bad guys get wind of the plan. It is her daughter’s birthday and none of the other kids showed up to the party because kids are cruel. Doing the superhero thing Garner decides to try making it the best birthday ever in spite of this. They go to a carnival. Then the bad guys gun them down. She survives and wants revenge.

Jennifer Garner is back! She still has the star power to be a great lead in an action flick like this. This is just as fun as any other action flick you have seen. It balances some of the action of John Wick with some of the iconic one liners of 80’s action films. The lines never feel forced, but the script isn’t really anything special. Everything in this movie is something you have seen before over and over in a recycled heap of action movies for the past 20+ years.

I get why the critics have panned this movie, and they are right that this film basically just rehashed tropes we have seen over and over. Crazy Rich Asians does the same, but is universally loved. What the critics get wrong is that if those tropes are done well then the film can still be entertaining. Peppermint doesn’t fill those tropes nearly as well as Crazy Rich Asians did in the romcom genre, but it is still an entertaining film. If you are craving action then you could do worse. In the end Peppermint is a decent action film. If you like revenge action films then you should enjoy this.

The Nun Review

A nun accompanies another nun who goes into a locked room in hopes of saving a fellow nun that is trapped with something terrible. Screams follow once the door closes behind her. She crawls back to the door to entrust the nun watching the door with a key and an ominous message that the terrible being will now come after her. To avoid the terrible she jumps out of a window. The body is discovered by a local who delivers supplies to the convent. The Vatican sends a priest to investigate the strange death.

The Nun piles on the horror clichés. As good as the special effects are they can’t save this film from those clichés. The creepy effects have been seen so many times in other movies that they lose their creepiness, and some are overused within the film itself. There are a few scares, but the jump scares are marred by poor execution. The best parts are near the beginning before the monster becomes more directly involved. Compared to other horror films that have come out lately The Nun is decent, but within The Conjuring universe it is rather average, which is a shame because the other films in the series show the clear potential that was squandered here.

The Nun is a mild horror movie that is only entertaining in spots. The movie suffers from a script that overdoses on the same tropes that have been used relentlessly in other movies that came before it. As being part of The Conjuring series, The Nun ends up as a disappointment.

Get Inspired

The Muse can be a fickle kitty when it comes to writing. Some days they are dancing and playful and others they disappear without warning leaving writers lamenting their lack of good snacks. Where did all the popcorn go?

So how do we summon the muse and get inspired to begin something new? It is hard enough to build something completely original considering that throughout human history we have written more words than you can count. Every idea that has ever been thought has most likely been thought before by someone else. It is very difficult to come up with something that is truly unique. We have to build upon something old to make something new.

Since we have to build something new off of ideas that have come before, to be able to formulate a new idea we have to familiarize ourselves with old ones. This means immersing yourself in content that meshes with what you are trying to do. For writers, look at the content that is being put out there in the medium that you want to create for. What is the premise of each piece? Do any of them call to you? Is there any tickle in your loins?

If you find something of interest, something you have knowledge about, or most importantly something you can write about then that is a good start. Think about how you would structure it. How would your version of this stand out? Twist things around and make it your own. Maybe this will lead to new ideas that have nothing to do with the subject at hand, or another related subject that was ignored in the content you just absorbed.

Of course inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, so one of the most important parts of getting inspired is simply being open to it. Always look for new ideas. Anything old can be made new. Any song, idea, or social media posting can be transformed into something longer. A smudge on a street sign can be the inspiration for a murder/mystery. How did that smudge get there? What is the smudge? Could it be blood? This is also why I love and hate writing prompts. I constantly come up with new writing ideas, so I have a plethora to choose from. Writing prompts always give me up to five new writing ideas. They are vague ideas just begging to be made whole.

I end up having to pick and choose the ideas that most excite me for what I write. It is hard to find the time to write every single idea that you come up with. No one else wants to write your idea unless you are paying them to do it. It is hard work. It is important that writers pick the idea that most excites them. Those are the ideas that readers will enjoy most.

I am inspired by movies, TV, music, dreams, and almost anything else I come in contact with. So what inspires you? I would love to hear it in the comments!

Kin Review

Elijah just got suspended from school for fighting. He has also been collecting metals from abandoned buildings to sell, so he can get some new shoes. While exploring an abandoned building he finds some dead bodies and an advanced weapon. His brother Jimmy just got out of jail and is staying with Elijah and their father. What they don’t know is that Jimmy owes money to a local gangster, and that gangster wants his money immediately.

For a SciFi action flick the story is pretty simple and disappointing. Some of the special effects are pretty cool, but nothing we haven’t seen before even though they are done better here than in most other movies. The real shining star is a wasted performance by Franco as the gangster Taylor Bolek. He does some of his finest work in this film, yet the rest of the movie is so blatantly average that it overshadows the performance.

Kin ends up being a missed opportunity. With a decent cast and some good special effects, it could have been a summer blockbuster type of film. Instead the overly simple storyline and poor script bog it down. The movie ends with a suggestion that there could be more in the form of a sequel, but I doubt there will be much interest.