Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Hansel and Gretel - Witch Hunters (2013) and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) is an action-adventure fantasy film based on the classic Germany fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel, by the Brothers Grimm. The film stars Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton as the brother-and-sister duo of professional witch hunters and Famke Janssen as the deadly leader of a coven of evil witches who set out to gain immense power and immunity to fire.

One fateful night, young Hansel and Gretel are abandoned by their parents in a deep forest. As they walk around the forest, they discover and enter an enchanted gingerbread house. They are quickly nabbed by an old evil witch who resides in it. She forces Hansel to continuously eat candy and makes Gretel prepare the oven. Before she has a chance to eat them, the siblings outsmart her and throw her into a fiery oven. They become instant heroes in the nearby town for killing the evil witch.

After the incident, Hansel and Gretel become bounty hunters who exterminate evil witches. Their work is relatively easy because they are immune to harmful witch spells and curses. Many years later, Hansel and Gretel prevent Sheriff Berringer from executing Mina, a young woman falsely accused of witchcraft, in the German town of Augsburg. Mayor Englemann has hired the siblings to investigate the disappearance of 11 children abducted by evil witches. In this particular case, the past meets the present. In other words, the siblings must hunt the most powerful grand witch they have ever encountered and stumble upon lost secrets that may reveal the truth about their parents’ deaths.

(Warning: this section contains spoilers) I really enjoyed this action film. It was a darker twist to this classic children's fairy tale. The adult versions of Hansel and Gretel became badass witch hunters who exterminate evil witches. With their witch-blood ancestry, they have immunity to spells and curses. It is a short film at 128 minutes, but the producers did a great job visually narrating their background story so that audiences can follow their trajectory as hunters in medieval Germany. The sibling duo gain a few friends along their journey, and who knows what awaits them as they unlock the secrets to their ancestry. If you have never read the original story-line, I highly recommend that you do in order to understand the plot. Overall, I highly recommend the film and hope that there will be a sequel in a few years!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review: Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5)

Harry Dresden -- Wizard: Lost items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Death Masks, by Jim Butcher, is the fifth novel in the Dresden Files series. Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professionally-trained wizard, finds himself in a deep bind. It is the middle of winter, and he desperately needs money. The producer of the Larry Fowler Show is paying double Dresden's usual fee to appear live on the show. Strangely, the other guests on the show also want to meet Dresden. Mortimer Lindquist, a local psychic spiritualist, tells Harry that his former lover Susan is alive and lives in Latin America. Father Vincent, a Vatican priest, wants to hire Dresden to recover the stolen Shroud of Turin. São Paulo University professor Ortega, a Red Vampire Duke, wants to kill him to end the war between the White Council and the Red Court. Sometimes, Dresden just can't seem to catch a break among the madness in the Windy City.

Susan Rodriguez, who is still struggling with her semi-vampire powers, contacts Dresden. However, Murphy reports a headless corpse with plague-like symptoms that Dresden must see at the morgue. Before he can investigate, he is attacked by a Denarian, a fallen angel-turned-monster attached to a mortal host. Michael Carpenter and two other Knights of the Cross, Shiro and Sanya, rescue Dresden and ask him to drop his case. Instead, Dresden consults an oracle spirit: according to the prophecy, if Dresden is involved, he will die. If Dresden is not involved, all the Knights will die, as will everyone in the city of Chicago. With little to lose, Dresden faces the biggest test in his life. The question remains can he survive to tell it.

Death Masks was a riveting action story that almost gave me goosebumps. I wasn't sure if Dresden would make it alive in one piece in this case. He was marked for death by both vampires and ancient fallen angels. It took faith and courage for him to survive another day. Jim Butcher has used more darker imagery in his plots to highlight the dangers that await for Dresden. At the same time, I definitely look forward to more adventures and the secrets behind Dresden's past. Can he find a cure for Susan and defeat the Red Court vampires? Can he develop more self-confidence in his abilities as a professional wizard? More of all, can he protect his friends and loved ones now that a new evil has arrived in town? Only time will tell. Stay tuned for the next novel in the Dresden Files series, Blood Rites


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Review: Ghost Hunt (2006-2007)

Ghost Hunt (2006-2007) is a Japanese supernatural anime based in contemporary Japan. It contains 25 episodes.

Mai Taniyama, a freshman high school student, and her friends like to tell ghost stories. Mai's life will change forever when she meets 17-year-old Kazuya Shibuya, a young man sent by Shibuya Psychic Research Center (SPR) to investigate paranormal activity at her supposedly haunted school. When Mai gets caught in a dangerous situation, she is rescued by Kazuya's assistant, Lin. When the assistant becomes incapacitated, Kazuya hires Mai to become his assistant as payment for the damaged cameras and injuring his assistant.

 Ghost Hunt follows the ghost hunting adventures of Mai Taniyama and her young manager, Kazuya Shibuya. Mai nicknames Kazuya Shibuya "Naru" because of his cynical and narcissistic attitude. Eventually, the nickname is adopted by all those who volunteer to work with SPR: a Buddhist monk, Houshou Takigawa; a shrine maiden, Ayako Matsuzaki; a famous psychic, Masako Hara; and a Catholic priest, John Brown.

 Over the course of the series, Ghost Hunt focuses on the paranormal abilities of the characters, particularly Mai's "latent psychic abilities." She can sense and dream about flashbacks and clues relevant to their cases. In her dreams, someone whom she assumes to be Naru acts as a spirit guide. Additionally, the other members of the SPR teach her some useful defensive and offensive spell techniques. Finally, she develops feelings for Naru as well as the other 'Naru' who appears in her dreams. In the end, the group members learn a powerful secret about Naru.  

Ghost Hunt was a fun paranormal anime show to watch. I am generally not particularly amazed by contemporary ghost stories, but the plot and character development was excellent. A case usually lasted 3-4 episodes. The characters, especially Mai and Kazuya, grew on you over time. The spirits found in each the case were different, so the suspense was unpredictable (a good plot device!). The members of SPR learned how to work together as a team using their strengths. Kazuya has a surprising action scene in the last episode, so I won't spoil the ending. Unfortunately, the anime feels incomplete because the story continues in the manga. If you want to know about Mai and Kazyua's relationship, check out the manga edition. Overall, I highly recommend this anime. 

It is available to rent and buy on DVD.

Opening Song: "Main Theme" by Toshio Masuda

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review: A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1)

With a scholar's depth and the touch of a great storyteller, Deborah Harkness has woven a tale of passion and obsession; the collision of magic, alchemy, and science; and the closely guarded secrets of an enchanted world.

A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness, is the first novel in the All Souls Trilogy. The plot follows Diana Bishop, a renowned historian of alchemy, on sabbatical at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. She has a deep secret: she is the last descendant of the famous witch, Bridget Bishop of Salem, Massachusetts. When her parents were killed in her childhood, she repressed her magical gifts and focused on her brain power, having attended Oxford and Yale.

When she calls the mysterious alchemical text known as Ashmole 782 from the stacks, she can feel its power and see hidden writing moving on its pages. After she returned the book to the stacks, she has attracted the attention of many beings -- vampires, daemons, and other witches -- who start to hang around the Bodleian Library. Among them is the eminent and attractive professor of neuroscience and genetics, Matthew Clairmont. He also happens to be a 1500-year-old vampire who wants to unlock the secrets behind the mystery of Ashmole 782. Diana starts to wonder what is so special about Ashmole 782 and why are these beings waiting for her to recall it. She doesn't realize that the alchemical text has been lost for centuries, and it sudden appearance has stirred the supernatural world.

Diana's life will change forever when dangerous foes ransack her Oxford home and threaten her existence. Under Matthew's protection, she leaves England for the chateaus and mountains of Auvergne and later to her ancestral home in upstate New York. Diana must come to terms with ancient taboos and her own family's conflicted witch history. In addition, she must accept her fate if she wants to survive the turmoil behind Ashmole 782.

A Discovery of Witches is a strange but fascinating novel of forbidden love that brilliantly synthesizes magic and history. The story takes place on two continents (North America and Europe) and has readers navigating dangerous passion, intellectual intrigue, and mystical beings. More surprisingly, the author, Deborah Harkness, is a historian of science and medicine at the University of Southern California. She brings her scholarly talents to write a vivid portrayal of magic, suspense, and dangerous secrets. Her storytelling skills are so rich and intricate that you can immediately tell the author is an expert on Renaissance-era European cultural and intellectual history. In an interview, Harkness stated that

Q. You’ve written two well-received scholarly books. What inspired you to write a novel?

It’s pretty hard not to notice the popular preoccupation with witches, vampires, and things that go bump in the night. But we aren’t the first to be fascinated with these creatures. Today, we often imagine them into fantastic otherworlds, but the people I study believed that such magical beings were living alongside them in this world. So I started thinking, if there are vampires and witches, what do they do for a living—and what strange stories do humans tell to explain away the evidence of their presence? A Discovery of Witches began with the answers to those questions as I essentially reimagined our modern world through the eyes of medieval and Renaissance people.

The protagonist, Diana Bishop, is a brave and stubborn researcher from an ancient lineage of New England witches. She does not want her fate, but an ancient force who desires her power leaves Diana no choice but to awaken her magic. She will need all the training she can assemble to face a battle beyond her wildest imagination. In addition, she discovers that her forbidden love with Matthew Clairmont, an ancient vampire, may forever alter the supernatural balance between witches, vampires, an daemons.

Overall, I am fortunate that I stumbled upon A Discovery of Witches on Harkness was able to bridge her scholarly interests with the popular paranormal fantasy/romance genre. While the book looks intimidating at 580 pages, I fell in love with the plot after the first chapter. It focused on character development, the romantic relationship between Diana and Matthew, and the emergence of Diana's unique magical abilities. I look forward to reading about Diana and Matthew's amazing journey in the next book.

Stay tuned for the second novel in the All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night.


Monday, January 7, 2013

Review: The Snow Queen (2005-2006)

The Snow Queen ~Yuki no Joō~ (2005-2006) is an anime adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tale, The Snow Queen. It contains 36 episodes.

In a small medieval town, Kai and Gerda have been neighbors and best friends since their childhood. They were happy children, but their lives would change on one cold winter day. In a faraway land, the Snow Queen lives in an enchanted ice castle. Her mirror breaks and shards spread throughout the world. Each shard contains something evil. If a shard enters a person's eye, then their soul turns to ice.

Unfortunately, an ice shard went into Kai's eye. After that moment, his personality grew colder to those he loved. One night, the Snow Queen appeared and took Kai into her carriage, flying back to her ice castle at the farthest north point of the world. Everyone in the town didn't know where he had disappeared, and believed he drowned in the frozen-over lake. Gerda doesn't believe these rumors. When another man admits that he saw her friend with the Snow queen, Gerda starts realizing that maybe Kai is still alive. Thus, Gerda packs her belongings and courageously goes on a journey to save Kai and bring him back home. Along the trip, she meets friends and companions to help guide her to the Snow Queen's location.

It took me nearly six years (!) to finish this Japanese television adaptation of this classic children's tale, but I am satisfied that I stuck through it until the last episode. This story is so beautiful that children and adults alike would find it sad and heartwarming. Although the ending was somewhat rushed, I liked how the anime followed the plot closely in its portrayal of the main characters. The OST music is also jovial and serene with careful detail to the setting of the story. The Snow Queen is one of those underrated anime shows that once you discover it you will find each episode a joy to watch. I highly recommend it. This anime should be available to rent and buy on DVD.

Opening Theme: "Snow Diamond" by Mariko Chisumi

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013: Another New Year with 94,000+ Hits

Happy New Year! After five years of maintaining this blog, I have reached over 94,000 hits! In addition, I read my 100th paranormal novel in December 2012 (woo-hoo!). I could have not been this successful without my fans. I share my passions in my posts, and fate takes care of the rest. Although I will be extremely busy in 2013 (~50 posts), I can't wait to share more entertainment and novels with all of you. I've also updated the web banner to mark this blog's fifth anniversary. It was time for a change. Expect a few more design changes in the coming months. In the meantime, please share this blog to your friends and colleagues who like paranormal anime, novels, and television shows.