A Girl Like That (Hardcover) by Tanaz Bhathena

Summary: A timeless exploration of high-stakes romance, self-discovery, and the lengths we go to love and be loved.

Sixteen-year-old Zarin Wadia is many things: a bright and vivacious student, an orphan, a risk taker. She’s also the kind of girl that parents warn their kids to stay away from: a troublemaker whose many romances are the subject of endless gossip at school. You don’t want to get involved with a girl like that, they say. So how is it that eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia has only ever had eyes for her? And how did Zarin and Porus end up dead in a car together, crashed on the side of a highway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia? When the religious police arrive on the scene, everything everyone thought they knew about Zarin is questioned. And as her story is pieced together, told through multiple perspectives, it becomes clear that she was far more than just a girl like that.

This beautifully written debut novel from Tanaz Bhathena reveals a rich and wonderful new world to readers. It tackles complicated issues of race, identity, class, and religion, and paints a portrait of teenage ambition, angst, and alienation that feels both inventive and universal.

 

Jen’s Review-  This is a disturbing and heartbreaking debut that will make you ponder life in other places.  Zarin’s risks in this books are things that are socially ok in America… but in Saudi Arabia not so much.   From the moment you read the first chapter you know this book is going to end in tragedy, but how did it get to that point?  How did too beautiful lives end so violently… it builds an anticipation that I was not expecting.  You know it is going to end bad… but why?

This book received a lot of hate saying that it did not portray Saudi Arabia accurately.  So when I originally went into the book I told myself to throw any stereotypes I might have out the window and enjoy the book.

I enjoyed this book.  A lot.   Here is the thing, I don’t know what life in Saudi Arabia is like.  I was not born there and I have not visited.  I only know what I can read and see on the news and let’s be honest it is not the most flattering representation.    I can tell you that this book was heartbreaking and if it is accurate… well… you will have to read the book and form your own opinions.

The characters are rich with complexity and I fell for the characters, even the ones that made you cringe.  They are all just trying to live life to the best of their life circumstance.  This book touches so many complex issues that I really feel it is a must read books.  Especially if ever in your life you walked by someone and they whispered “a girl like that”

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE (no spoilers)

BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is a masterpiece to me. It doesn’t have to be to you. It has beat out Mission Impossible Fallout as my favorite/best film of the year. Everything in the movie flowed perfectly for me, the story, characters, acting, tone, etc. Although it is certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes a lot of the mainstream critics are complaining that it doesn’t have a big genre bending twist like Drew Goddard’s previous film The Cabin In The Woods and it kind of a Tarantino rip off in some places. The critics are just basing that on that the film cuts back and forth between what is presently happening and each of the tenant’s stories before they entered the hotel with old fashioned title cards. But this movie isn’t a Tarantino rip off at all. This has a mind of its own. Tarantino’s films all sort of wink wink at the camera at every opportune moment, have dialogue that toes the line of being too over-the-top yet being genius at the same time, and none of them can be taken too seriously and are always playful. This films tone has director Drew Goddard’s own sense of style. He is a unique visionary that is trying to bring an individual palette into the Hollywood game and isn’t trying to simply just copy other films and directors. And those are just some of the reasons I love this film, but mainly because I found this to be an original piece in a flood of other pics that are either sequels, franchise reboots, remakes, etc, etc, etc.

If you’ve seen the trailer, and if you try to explain it to someone, it sounds like the onset of a joke: a priest, a singer, a rebel, and a salesman walk into a hotel in 1969. Each have something to hide or are more than what they seem. They’re lives happen to interconnect on this fateful night where some of the guests won’t make it out alive. And if you’ve seen the trailer you know there’s a young man that runs the hotel and Chris Hemsworth as a hippie Charles Manson type shows up at one point. That’s all you need to know. The whole experience of this film is the journey itself. And the journey is incredible. The story itself has some minor twists and turns with the characters, but do not go into this film expecting something shocking like the entire second half of The Cabin In The Woods. I know that the trailer, maybe, makes it seem like something huge is going to upend your world, but no, Drew Goddard doesn’t just want to be like M. Night Shyamalan where the audience expects something huge in the middle/end of the film that will drop your jaw to the ground. He testing each of these cinematic waters, putting his toe in different genres to get the feel of what he wants to do and say next.

I think Drew Goddard is a very talented individual. He wrote the best episodes of Buffy, Angel, Alias, and Lost. He was the showrunner on the first season of Daredevil. He wrote Cloverfield. He produces The Good Place. He was nominated for an Academy Award for adapting The Martian. And he co-wrote and directed the amazing The Cabin In The Woods. And he’s just as amazing here, both writing and directing. There is this very long tracking shot in the film where Jon Hamm is in the back of the hotel, finding out that the guests may or may not be spied on, and the sets and intricacies of the movement of everything right on time is phenomenal. The whole film is. There is a perfect balance of likable colorful characters, good old fashioned antagonists, and some in grey areas. Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, and Jon Hamm do fantastic jobs in their roles. Lewis Pullman is the stand out in the scenes where he is heavily featured. Chris Hemsworth gives us his best acting to date as a bad boy hippie named Billy Lee. And Dakota Johnson proves that she isn’t just some sex symbol in the Fifty Shades film, bringing some attitude and charisma to her shady character.

I just loved this film. This review would be longer if I could spoil some sequences but I don’t want to in favor of you going out and checking this movie out. It is entertaining, nail biting, visually pleasing to the eye, and fun all at the same time. The use of oldies music in this doesn’t feel forced and weight heavily on what is going on in the scene. It’s a very, very well made film. It’s one of those you find on a movie channel on a lazy afternoon and can just start watching it wherever you are and not stop until the end. Or if you find it playing on a commercial station, you pop in the blu-ray and continue on from where it was to avoid the commercials and the censorship. Bad things happen to people in this film, but you will have good times at the movies if you seek this film out. Go check in.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: FIRST MAN (no spoilers really, if you don’t know that Neil Armstrong made it to the moon something is wrong with you)

FIRST MAN made me realize that any notion as a child I had of ever exploring space and becoming an astronaut, should never have come to pass. If I showed this film to my younger self, I’d immediately say, “fuck that, I’d rather flip burgers.” But saying that with this movie, is not a negative. This film makes you appreciate what these men and women tried and accomplished all that much more. It is easily the best space biopic since Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, but I dare say this one is probably more intense and harrowing, fingers nails dug deeply into that soft luxury loungers (if you are lucky enough to have theaters like that around you). Listen, I don’t know anything about space exploration or any historic inaccuracies when watching this film. I just know that extraordinary filmmaker Damien Chazzelle, screenwriter Josh Singer, and actor Ryan Gosling has spoken passionately about this project in interviews I have seen in print and on television, and trust that what they brought to the screen was as close as they could get to the true story, without using the “Based” words you see on every promotional material stretched out wide narratively. I’ve never been this tense in a biopic film when I knew exactly what the ultimate outcome was. First Man is that engaging.

The film has three long sequences of Neil doing spectacular things all surrounded by his personal and family life, as well as the NASA talks in between. At the beginning we see Neil piloting and almost have grave consequences with X-15 craft, toward the middle of the film we get Neil and the Gemini 8, trying to test dock with the Agena, and then of course at the end of the film, the infamous moon landing. Also there is a small sequence of Neil almost getting killed test flying the landing craft. All of these sequences are tense as any good fictional thriller could give you, only I has holding my breath with how extreme it all felt, considering all of this really happened. The Gemini 8 sequence is easily the best in the film. I have never been as clastraphobic in a theater since Ryan Reynolds in Buried. In other Hollywood space films, the fictional ones, and even somewhat in the biopic Apollo 13, the camera and the sets seem to give a lot of room for the cameras and actors to breath, making it feel not as authentic as it should. Not this film. Director Damien Chazzelle takes the camera in what seems to be construction accurate authentic space craft and modules, the shots very close up to show the audience how little room these brave individuals had when out in space, their very lives hanging in the balance at points. At one point during the Gemini 8 sequence, the craft starts to spin at over 200 miles per hour, and once the scene was over my hands hurt from my fists being balled up pretty tight during the shots. If the movie wins anything during the Academy Awards, they should have sound editing and mixing in the bag, they were both incredible and added all the tension necessary to get the intensity to that scene to the audience in their seats.

That brings me to my next point of why director Damien Chazelle should easily get an Oscar nomination for this. Everything felt completely real. When I mentioned that the Gemini 8 goes into a very violent spin, the camera doesn’t go outside the spacecraft to show the audience a blatant special effects shot of the craft and how fast it was spinning. We stay inside with Armstrong and his one other man crew, of how he had to handle it quickly before both of them passed out and they were as sure as dead. In fact, there are very few shows of the various crafts these individuals flew in space, and the shots that are given to the audience I swore had to be expertly shot models, some stock footage, or very detailed almost perfect SFX. It was mind boggling how real everything felt. And one of the last sequences where Armstrong finally gets to the moon, it isn’t bombastically shot like something epic, some fictionalized view of what the moon landing would be in an filmmakers melodramatic or over-the-top climatic eyes. Space is silent, nothing on the moon except some craters and moon rocks/dust. Armstrong looks out and sees a vast darkness beyond of the simple empty white surface in front of him. He isn’t shooting space aliens or jumping happily and screaming out that he made it. Just silent recognition of triumph. And some scenes dealing with loss of family and friends earlier in the film, felt like an emotional journey earned. I nearly choked up near the end.

There really isn’t more to say about the film except that everything in the movie was a close to perfect as you can get for a biopic. The pacing was fantastic, Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy both did excellent jobs acting, Damien Chazzelle knocks it out of the park 3 for 3 with me here. The emotional journey was just as great as the technical one. Everything was earned, nothing forced. If you love space, space exploration, love NASA, want to work for NASA, some kind of mechanical or electric engineer, or basically anyone that loves a good true story biopic, I couldn’t find you a better one in 2018. Masterful and one of the year’s best films for me.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: GOOSEBUMPS 2 – HAUNTED HALLOWEEN (minor spoilers)

I watched the first movie again just a few days ago in preparation for GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN, and the movie was better than I remember it. I remember having an awful experience in the theater with two woman just yap yap yapping above me at an advance screening and wouldn’t shut the fuck up after numerous times asking them to be quiet. After walking out of the theater, I thought the movie was okay. On re watch, it is still only okay, but a little bit better giving it my complete attention. I like Jack Black’s performance in the movie, as well as Amy Ryan’s minor role, and the three kids, with 13 Reason’s Why star Dylan Minnette, having good chemistry as well. But there were no scares, were no creepy scenes, it was just a fun, family friendly, little whimsical take on the book series. The Slappy doll was the closest that the first movie got to being creepy, voice to perfection by Jack Black. You see, I read every single volume of the original Goosebumps when I was growing up as a kid, and while the movie was fun to point at and say, “this is from this book and this is from that book”, the story was kind of bland (it just consisted of trying to suck back all the characters into a book which R.L. Stine (Black) had to quickly write in the third act), the monsters were unexciting, and the books were way more entertaining and creepy for someone at that age.

So it’s a little disappointing that Goosebumps 2 was more of the same, and while it did actually succeed to ramp up a couple of kid friendly jump scares and be kind of creepy, when the monsters all come out to play, it was a little bit blander than the first one. In essence, those two things cross each other out and it ends up being just as good as the first one, even though Jack Black is in the film for only 10 minutes (although thankfully he comes back fully to voice Slappy). It seems like this was maybe an unused draft of the first movie that the producers decided to dust off the cobwebs to, have a script doctor change some things, and send quickly into production for a Halloween release. I’ve read somewhere that they had two scripts for this, one that brought back all the returning characters, and one that didn’t. I heard they tried to get Black for the whole movie but he was working on A House With A Clock in Its Walls and was unavailable. So they shot this whole movie, and then Jack Black’s agents called and said, “he’s available for a couple of days of filming if you want to use him in your sequel.” So they quickly went into re shoot mode, got everyone back for a weekend, and it up feeling that all of his scenes are tacked on (especially the sequel set up ending, but Black’s presence still makes the scenes he is in somewhat enjoyable, with a great IT/Stephen King joke reference yet again, continuing those jabs from the original). I wish fucking Sony executives would’ve just waited, and had Black available and Dylan and all the rest of the originals cast schedules come together than try to do basically the same thing but with different characters and just a little bit more creepiness. The time to wait too could’ve also made a new script with a new story nice and tight and ready for an organized and timely shoot.

But, but…you know those Sony executives, if any sequel is 3 years after the original they start to go into panic mode and give audiences a rushed product. But other than the tacked on R.L. Stine sequences, I’ll give it that the movie does feel complete. The first 30-40 minutes of the film has some pretty good set up. It isn’t just 10 minutes of “here are the characters, and then all goofy fake spookiness for the rest of the film.” Jeremy Ray Taylor (who played Ben in the new IT film) and Caleel Harris (who played young Henry Deaver in Stephen King’s Castle Rock Hulu Series) are friends, one is obsessed with the infamous Nikola Tesla, and the other wants to start a junk collecting/cleaning business, are called to an old house to clean some shit out of there. It’s their first junk job, so they want to do a good job. The house they have to clean shit out of is old and creepy and they find a secret passage way to a hidden untitled book, which they open, and Slappy instantly appears and that’s about where I’ll stop before I ruin the entire movie. Taylor’s character has a sister (played coincidentally by the girl in Jumanji that ends up being Jack Black’s avatar) that just wants to write an essay to get into Columbia for college and has a huge crush on a guy that may or may not like her back. Story wise the script pushes her into the story a little bit down the line too. I really liked the movie when Slappy is introduced. I actually jumped a couple of times with some of the kid friendly cheap jump scares the film tries to bring its audience, and the music accompaniment helped as well.

Obviously, you’ve seen from the trailer that Slappy unleashes Goosebumps monsters eventually, and that is where the movie falls flat. The three teenagers basically do the same things that the teenagers did in the first one and try to find some way to stop Slappy and get all the monsters back into a book. Some of the sequences weren’t bad, like the giant balloon spider that Ken Jeong’s character (yes, he’s in this and is still annoying as fuck) builds over his house because of course his single lonely guy character is really into Halloween because the script says he needs to be. And the gummy bear sequence is okay, would’ve been better if not for the terribly shitty CGI, but all the other monsters fall flat, especially when the Haunted Mask makes an appearance. The characters mother, played not as over the top by Reno 911’s Wendi McClendon-Covey, is actually a movie mom you’d want to have around, and she has a great laugh out loud joke moment in her introduction in the film. The film does kind of waste her in the climax though…

Ugh, my review is way too long for a movie like this. In summation, I think it would’ve been cooler if the marketing had made Jack Black’s appearance more of a secret. It was at first, but then studio executives got nervous the movie wouldn’t do well and ruined the surprise in a TV spot. It’s also questionable when watching this where you end up craving going to Netflix and watching the cheesy low budget TV series, that focused on individual stories rather than trying to group of monsters into a contrived plot. So am I giving this a recommendation? I will if you have kids. Looking around the theater, kids were loving this and eating this movie up, and the adults looked like they were pleased that their kids were having a good time. If you are a lonely, die hard old Goosebumps fan, you are likely to be a little disappointed, probably like you were with the first film. It’s all more of the same, and if you are fine with that, then you are likely to get something out of it.

Just escape the cubicle already

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