William Landay – Defending Jacob

William Landay – Defending Jacob

For quite some time, I really wanted to read a good court-room thriller. After seeing Defending Jacob on my Goodreads recommendations, I decided to give it a try. And am I glad I did…

Andy Barber is a respected and well-admired assistant district attorney, and one of the best prosecutors in his county. He leads a peaceful life with his wife, Laurie, and his teenage son Jacob. However, this existence is shattered by the murder of a young boy in the neighborhood. And the prime suspect of this murder is Jacob. Andy, being a father, of course believes completely in Jacob’s innocence, despite the emergence of some damning new evidence, which rocks the family boat and strains the relationship between Andy and Laurie to near-breaking point.. As if this was not enough, Andy has been withholding a secret for more than twenty years, something he hasn’t disclosed to even his wife. How far will Andy go to protect his son?

The plot is pretty solid, with minimal loopholes and plotholes and whatever other holes there may be in a novel; if there were any, I didn’t notice them at the very least. At the outset, the concept is simple, but the plot-progression adds layers of complexity that jsut cannot be ignored. The character development by William Landay was so good it approaches near-perfection. It’s painfully heartbreaking how Laurie changes over the course of the book from an optimist to a wreck; the case takes a toll on Andy too in more ways than one can imagine. Defending Jacob reminds me of A Simple Plan by Scott Smith, in the best way possible.

Just pick up this book, and I’ll guarantee you will not be able to put it down until you get to the end. It’s hard to believe Defending Jacob is only William Landay’s third novel. Okay, let’s stop the posturing; just buy this book already! Doubly so if you are a fan of court-room thrillers like me.

RATING : 9.6/10

Nocturnal Animals [2016]

Nocturnal Animals [2016]

I finished watching Nocturnal Animals about an hour ago. And I must confess, it was a mind-screw type of film in some aspects. Best thing about it, is I’ve always liked such films. Also, I’m a sucker for Jake Gyllenhaal’s films; they always have the element of the psychological in them. Does this film by Tom Ford match up to those other films I like?

Susan Morrow is an insomniac; can’t sleep at night even if she put her heart and soul into it unless sleeping pills are also popped in concert with that glass of water she’s just had. But Susan’s problems are not just confined to insomnia, her personal and professional life[she’s an art gallery owner] both have started feeling really dull and unsatisfactory to her. But things start changing when she receives a manuscript of a novel her ex-husband had been working on for some time. The name of the novel? Nocturnal Animals. As she starts reading the novel, she is drawn deeper and deeper into the story, to the point where she is so immersed that something happening in the outside world would startle her back to life.

This is how the movie starts off. Once Susan begins reading the novel, a new phase of the film begins; the film now keeps switching between Susan and the happenings in the novel she’s reading. In the novel, Tony Hastings is out with his wife Laura and their daughter India for a camping trip out in Western Texas. But during the night, an altercation between the holidaying family and a group of delinquents turns unsavory, and quickly the situation turns horribly wrong. So basically, on the one hand the viewer sees Susan leading her mundane life with the regular staff meetings and discussions and such; on the other hand a thriller is playing out with Tony trying his best to keep his family safe.

                                                            This guy is freakin’ intense…

The plot is pretty much on point here, and the way the two arcs are handled deserves special praise; nowhere does it feel like either one of them is dragging. Also the reminiscences Susan has about her past life, are also well melded into the storytelling. Also, the eerie atmosphere of the novel when contrasted with Susan’s elaborate living conditions, makes for some sudden but great transitions between the novel and real life. Acting deserves special mention in this film; my man Jake Gyllenhaal does it again, as he has done so so many times. His double act as the novelist ex-husband Edward Sheffield and the terrified  family man Tony Hastings makes for a great watch. So is Isla Fisher’s Laura, Tony’s wife in the novel. But my personal favorite in this film was Amy Adams, who played the insomnia-ridden Susan. She is amazing in every which way throughout the film. By the way, watch out for Aaron Taylor-Johnson too, he’s the X-factor for this movie. He’s the most psychopathic character I’ve seen since Jake’s Nightcrawler, I think.

So, what do I say? If you are a fan of psychological thrillers, then you’ll definitely love this film. Although I must say, Nocturnal Animals seems like a film which will lead to polarizing opinions from the viewers. Let me know how you felt about the film.

RATING : 8.8/10

PROS :
– plot progression is neat
– smooth transitions
– great acting all over
– mind-screw

CONS :
– not for everyone

AJIN [SEASON 2]

AJIN [SEASON 2]

The second season of Ajin finished airing just about ten days ago. Those of you who haven’t yet caught up on the anime after the season one cliffhanger, get ready to jump on the hype train! [Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen S1]

So the first season ended with Nagai Kei and his new companion Nakano Kou making a break and escaping the clutches of Tosaki and Shimomura. And in the meantime, Satou has issued an ultimatum to the Japanese government to include provisions for ajin to be treated as normal human beings, and to stop using them as guinea pigs for experimentation. The alternative being that Satou and his fellow ajin go after 15 officials who are the main culprits regarding this matter. The second season picks up from there, with Satou beginning to make good on his promise. On the other end, Nagai and Nakano want to stop Satou from executing his master plan, but they are severely lacking on manpower. Nagai comes up with the idea of pairing up with one of the main officials in secret so that this issue ceases to remain an issue anymore. And guess who that is… Tosaki himself!

Image result for ajin satou

                                                                  Way too OP…

The story is pretty fast paced, as it was in the first season. And it doesn’t waste time in pleasantries of any sort. The action keeps moving from Satou’s perspective to that of Nagai and Tosaki, and these switches have been handled well, so that the viewer is not distracted in the least. And as it was in the previous season, the action scenes are amazing; especially the ones where Satou goes berserk in killing people, they are truly badass moments in the show. The characters have been further developed, and some backstory for Tosaki and Shimomura comes in too. Nagai and Co. are great, no doubt about that. But my favorite character would be Satou, as is only to be expected. The guy says so many awesome things in his trademark nonchalant style; the writers did a fantastic job with this particular role. It’s as if he is the anime version of Vaas from FarCry 3. And just in case you don’t know this guy, let’s just say he is still the best villain I’ve seen in a game yet.

The only real issue with Ajin is the same as it was with the first season; the frame rates. I know that the production crew decided to do it the hard way and make it a 3D animated show, and I laud them for it. The actions are remarkably human-like, as a result. But more than occasionally, you’re left trying to see if you can differentiate one frame from another during some of the quieter moments of the show. Other than that, the show is pretty slick.

In conclusion, I would personally recommend Ajin to anyone who watches anime, and have done it on numerous occasions already. If for nothing else, just for the amazingly haunting background score that plays at the beginning and end of each episode…

RATING : 9/10

PROS :
– good plot pacing
– action scenes are even cooler
– amazing background score
– Satou-san OP
– improved 3DCG

CONS :
– frame rate is still a bit unsatisfactory

 

 

 

 

 

The Chaser(2008)

The Chaser(2008)

I have said it before, and I will say it again; Korean films are a blast to watch. Not because they are entertaining or fun; no one who has seen movies like Memories of Murder or Oldboy will say anything contrary to my statement. No, they are a blast because they are really intense pieces of art, which will make you question everything and assume not a single thing. Or maybe it’s just my awesome choice at picking out the cream of the Korean offerings, but anyways. Let’s get into The Chaser now, without further ado.

The film begins with the former Task Force detective-turned-pimp sending out one of his girls for business, if you know what I mean. But the guy is also getting paranoid about his state of affairs, as two of his call girls have quite probably just escaped without giving him any information of their whereabouts. He wants to tighten up his protocol to ensure these incidents do not repeat in the future. Unluckily, the girl who the pimp has just sent out, is also on her way to meet him. I don’t think I will be able to tell you readers any more about the plot, as some key details might be spoilt for those of you who wish to see the film. But I can assure you of one thing; it is pretty twisted and messed-up on a different level.

                                                                           The chase is on!

This is a different kind of film from the normal, as we already know the antagonist at the outset itself. Something I haven’t often seen in the suspense thriller genre. The screenplay ought to be tight, which is a requirement for this type of film, and thankfully the film delivers on that front. Also, this is quite possibly the Korean film with the fastest pacing I’ve seen yet. And the acting is spot-on, I must say. All the characters are fully fleshed out, from the pimp to the antagonist to the call girl and her kid daughter, to the police.  It is as if they are living in their roles. That might seem a bit cliche, but that is god’s honest truth. And the story is based on some real-life events, which honestly does throw up some red flags about the existence of hope in this world. This is some really depressing shit.

Overall, I’d say this: if you have watched a few Korean film, chances are you’ve watched this already. If you haven’t, guess what; it’s time for you to do yourself a favor already. And those of you who don’t[or haven’t yet] watched Korean suspense thrillers yet, this is a great way to initiate yourself into it.

RATING : 9.7/10

PROS :
– top-notch acting
– insane pacing
– pretty dark and disturbing

CONS :
– may be too dark for some

 

THE PEOPLE VS O.J.SIMPSON : AMERICAN CRIME STORY

THE PEOPLE VS O.J.SIMPSON : AMERICAN CRIME STORY

After watching Making A Murderer, my interest was piqued regarding similar real-life incidents that shook the world. And I hit on this show by FX.

The year is 1994. Nicole Simpson, O.J’s ex-wife, and her friend Ronald Goldman, a waiter, are killed at Nicole’s house one night. Some of the police set off to notify O.J Simpson of his ex-wife’s death, but he is nowhere to be found. At the same time, preliminary evidence-gathering puts O.J in the vicinity of the crime scene, and on subsequent analysis O.J’s blood is found at the crime scene, along with that of the victims’. When the cops try to arrest O.J, he absconds with his friend A.C. Cowlings in his white Ford Bronco, and leads the police on a long-spanning low-speed chase, with O.J.Simpson threatening to blow his head off if he is arrested. After O.J and the police arrive at a compromise, he is taken into custody, and soon enough what will be known as the Trial of the Century starts up. Marcia Clark is handed over the reins for the prosecution’s case against O.J, while Robert Shapiro takes over as the lead attorney for the O.J.Simpson defense. Follow them as they build their case against each other, while more attorney are added to both of the teams as the show moves on forward.

Absolutely, 100% not guilty!!!

Regarding the setting of ACS, I can’t really say if it was faithfully recreated as I’m neither an American, nor was I around when all this stuff took place, but I’ll go along with it. But I must say, the acting was really awesome; my personal favorite was Courtney B Vance’s portrayal of Johnnie Cochran and Sarah Paulson’s Marcia Clark, they were absolutely phenomenal, if I may say so. And so was Sterling K Brown’s passionate performance in the role of Christopher Darden. And even if David Schwimmer and John Travolta may not appear for very long, they were  great as well. Only thing is, I’m doubtful about Cuba Gooding Jr. being cast in the titular role O.J “The Juice” Simpson. He does come across as a wee bit whiny and needy at times. And the pacing of ACS? That’s one thing you needn’t worry about, seeing as it never lets up at all.

Overall, if you are a fan of real-life documentaries and shows based on true incidents, this must definitely be on your radar. And even if you are not, still give it a try; it’s a great show, after all.

RATING : 8.6/10

PROS :
– great adaptation
– stellar acting
– good pacing

CONS :
– titular character comes across as a whiner sometimes

 

 

MAKING A MURDERER

MAKING A MURDERER

Netflix has got it going on with really smart and thoughtful shows, I must say. I don’t really watch TV series much, but whatever offerings I’ve seen from Netflix have all been quality stuff. With the same confidence, I began watching Making A Murderer, a real-life thriller incident; the show spanning over ten years in the time-line. So, how good is it?

Steven Avery was a 23-year-old man convicted of rape and attempted murder in 1985, and was sentenced for thirty years in prison. But eighteen years into serving his sentence, DNA testing of the crime-scene evidence conclusively proves Avery’s innocence, and in fact proves that another convict was guilty of the crime Avery was jailed so long for. Looking into the case also shows many discrepancies in evidence-gathering and investigation by the police, and the corrupt nature of the local law enforcement is exposed. Avery is finally released in 2003.

Understandably pissed-off at the county police, Steven Avery sues them for $36 million, and begins preparing for the lawsuit. But within a few months, Avery is once again the prime suspect, this time for an even bigger crime, that of murder. The show takes the viewers through this high-profile case which made national headlines during its day, with the circumstances being all the more bizarre this time around. And this time, the county police seem to have caught him cold. What really happened? And who is the murderer? These are only a few of the questions we viewers are faced with at the beginning of the show, and some of them have not been answered, yet.

This show is a documentary of the events that transpired before and during the case, with the show looking mainly at the defense argument for the case. And as such, Making A Murderer makes use of only real-life footage, ranging from news clippings to court proceedings to interrogation and investigation footage. Not to forget the voice-overs and comments from the actual players in the case; the prosecution, the defense lawyers, the defendant Steven Avery and his family members, the witnesses and such. I like the fact that none of the events have been actual footage by the makers, as it really helps in maintaining the authenticity of the show. Also it must have saved the makers a lot of money, but that’s another matter entirely and is not worth our consideration.

And let’s get down to the business end of it; is the show any good? You bet. This is probably the best show I’ve seen in recent times, and if I have to compare, it is as intense as the final two seasons of Breaking Bad. In fact, Making A Murderer is so intense in its content that you’d want to binge-watch the whole show.  However this is almost impossible as emotions take over the viewers all the time, and may leave you too pissed-off at some of the incidents and the people, to the point where you really will need a break from the show. Also, kudos to the screen-writers  for maintaining the pacing of the show at a swift, trotting pace,so to speak. In these kinds of shows, it is very easy to mess up and drag out some events, or rush through others, but I’m glad to see the show not fall into the same old trap.

Overall, I would say Making A Murderer is one of the best shows I’ve ever watched until now. Those of you guys who want to believe in the criminal justice system, please watch this show at your own peril, as your trust may find itself getting eroded by the happenings.

RATING : 10/10

PROS :
– effective use of live footage
– intense and atmospheric
– great pacing

CONS :
– will probably make you lose faith in the justice system

STRANGER THINGS

STRANGER THINGS

This show wasn’t even on my radar. Until I started seeing just about everyone talk about how great it was. But I started getting curious about the show once I saw Stephen King recommending it on Twitter. So what did I do? Start watching Stranger Things, of course.

Stranger Things is set in the year of 1983 in a sub-urban Indiana town in US. We have four geeky friends Mike Wheeler, Lucas Sinclair, Dustin Henderson and Will Byers. They of course get regularly bullied at school for studying what’s being taught by their teachers. After a 10-hour session of Dungeons&Dragons at Mike’s house during a weekend, Will disappears under mysterious circumstances on his way home. Now starts a town-wide search led by the alcoholic Chief Jim Hopper, the head of the town’s police force. Will’s mother Joyce Byers, starts having some really freaky experiences at their home, while the three remaining friends decide to search for their friend Will on their own. Meanwhile Nancy, Mike’s elder sister, starts making out with Steve Harrington, a popular guy in her school. During their searching expedition in a freezing rain, Mike&Co. find a girl with a shaved head, and Mike decides to take her home to give her a place to recuperate. Little do they know that she’s got mad skills[read : psychokinesis]. What does this girl have to do with Mike’s disappearance? Watch on to find out.

    The rescue party…

With government conspiracies, alternate-dimensions, telekinesis and some good old jump-scares, this show really packs a lot of ammo for the viewers. The story is pretty great; what’s even better is the way it has been presented. The screenplay is top-notch for this show, with three separate arcs being handled more than competently. It’s all too easy to have multiple arcs where some of them really kill off the pace and mood of the story, but Stranger Things is made of sterner stuff. And I also like how they did not over-use the horror sequences; quite often we see shows which overdo the jump-scares and come off worse for wear. But this show doesn’t fall into that trap.

Acting is brilliant in Stranger Things. The four kids playing the friends all do a great job at being the science-loving geeky types. Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, is pretty funny too. Natalia Dyer who plays Nancy is somewhat annoying as a character, but that’s exactly how the role was supposed to be, so no complaints on that. Winona Ryder is stellar in her performance of a concerned mother who doesn’t give up hope for Will even though she has to deal with all sorts of stuff, and with David Harbour[Chief Jim Hopper], they together make a fantastic lead. But the one who really carries the show is Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, the girl of few words and mad skills. She is sensationally good in her role. I may have missed out on a few other actors, but it’s only because there are so many of them in the show who have been well fleshed-out.

Only thing that really seems a bit unbelievable to me, is the Wheeler parents’ lack of any knowledge whatsoever about their kids’ lives. But hell, we’ve seen stranger things than that, right?

With brilliant use of jump scares alongside the persistently bleak ambience, Stranger Things is one of the best shows of this season, and becomes yet another reason for Netflix sign-ups to go through the roof. Recommended for everyone who wants to watch something awesome*.

RATING : 9.3/10

PROS :
– bleakly atmospheric
– Stephen King-like plot
– awesome cast

CONS :
– Wheeler parents felt a bit too off to me

* Those with photosensitive epilepsy should keep away from watching Stranger Things. The show makes heavy use of strobing light effects during some of the scenes.