Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings – A Book Review

You may remember that my wife and I very much enjoyed Killing Eve, which aired on BBC America.  As is my habit, I had to go check out the source material, which turned out to be a novel entitled Codename Villanelle.

Written by Luke Jennings, this fast-paced, brisk thriller served as the basis for the television show.  However, as you read the book, you’ll notice the show greatly enriched virtually every character.

Villanelle is still present–obviously.  So is Eve.  Konstantin and Niko, too.  Several other characters were adapted into new characters for the show, or outright jettisoned.

The show also used the same general plot.  Villanelle is an international assassin who comes from less than nothing.  Konstantin is her handler.  Eve is a UK agent obsessed with apprehending Villanelle.  Niko is still her husband.  However, Jennings keeps them fairly bare-bones.  Yes, he introduces some of their little idiosyncrasies.  Eve is still something of a social train-wreck.  Villanelle is still a sociopath.  Niko is still incredibly patient and helpful.  But, we seem to just skim the surface of these interesting attributes.  None of them have the charm nor the depth of their televised counterparts.

The novel is very plot driven.  Jennings is incredibly specific with locations, weaponry, procedures, and technology.  There is ample action that moves at a whiplash pace, but, again, the characters are somewhat flat.

I have to wonder if I’m being unfair to the book.  Killing Eve is clearly such a special show, is it unfair to judge the source material too harshly in this case?  Could Killing Eve’s charming, odd, wonderful characters have existed without Jennings groundwork?

Honestly, I don’t think I’m being unfair.  The book was an entertaining read, but it didn’t strike me as monumental.  Without the show, I don’t think it would have made much of an impression on me.  Keep in mind, though, I don’t read much suspense or espionage spy stories.

Frankly, there were times when I thought the book was a little sexually gratuitous.  Jennings makes a point to depict Villanelle as a sexual predator.  He absolutely objectifies her and her prey.  It largely felt unnecessary to me, because it is–again–dealt with at a very shallow level that makes it seem like it’s there only to shock the reader.

If you like quick reads full of detail, action, violence, and suspense, this is the book for you.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

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Dr. Nekros: Book Two Is Live and Available On the Kindle and Nook!

In this second book of the Dr. Nekros trilogy, you will learn the fate of Zetta Southerland, the origin of the demon Xaphan, how the Packard came to be haunted, and witness yet another confrontation between Dr. Nekros and the evil beings working to destroy every aspect of his life. Dr. Nekros: Book Two delivers nonstop action, fascinating characters, and an intricate plot that will leave you stunned.

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Dr Nekros Book Two Cover

Ant-Man and the Wasp – A Movie Review

You may remember that I kind of liked the first Ant-Man.  (Read that review HERE.)  I’m not going to spoil Ant-Man and the Wasp for you, but I’ll say this–I liked it even better than the first one!

Everything the first one did really well got executed even better this time around.  The character dynamics are stronger, the family bonds tighter, the plot is way more interesting, and the conflicts are more complicated.  (Notice I didn’t say logical or even believable,  but hey, you’re watching a sci-fi super hero movie–don’t get persnickety.)

Best of all?  The comedy is faster, looser, and infinitely more genuine.

The heart and soul of this movie is Paul Rudd, to be sure.  He’s got amazing chemistry with everyone, but especially Michael Pena (his business partner), Abby Rider Fortson (his daughter), and Randall Park (his [redacted]).

Don’t get me wrong, he’s so fun to watch with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly as well, but those three mentioned above just jump off the screen when together.

Speaking of Evangeline Lilly, seeing her as the Wasp has been well worth the wait.  While Rudd is the heart and soul of the film, Lilly is the muscle.  She’s got some fantastic action sequences and definitely gets top billing as the “action star” in my book.  I love her and Ant-Man fighting side by side, especially because she is by far the more capable of the two.  I both hope and want to see a lot more of the Wasp in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Michael Douglas is also far more likable in this sequel.  He’s got a lot of skin in the game this time around.  He’s still cranky as Hank Pym, but the central conflict allows us to connect with him in ways we couldn’t before.  We get to see Pym as an actual father and husband this time around, not just as a grieving shut-in.

I’d also like to mention that I loved the villain–Ghost.  I mostly appreciated that she is her own thing, not just a derivative of Ant-Man.  She’s also got actual motive and, by movie’s end, I dare you not to sympathize with her a little.  This is not a crazed business tycoon or an inter-dimensional despot seeking to take over reality.  This is a real person with a very real problem.

Laurence Fishburne had a far meatier role than I anticipated, and his role actually surprised me.  I ended up really liking his character and would love to see more of him.  I can’t get too much into it for fear of spoiling the plot, but I’m anxious to see how others liked him.  He’s not just a throw-away supporting actor, trust me.

Finally, it is SO great to see Michelle Pfeiffer on the big screen again.  Her charisma just oozes onto the audience.  Again, I won’t reveal too much, but I instantly loved her character and can’t wait to see more of her as well.  I could watch Pfeiffer in every Marvel movie from here on out.

The Ant-Man world is slowly growing (no pun intended), and they are making fantastic choices with the actors they are electing to cast in this franchise.  They are all either very funny, very charismatic, or very likable–in most cases all three!

But again, Paul Rudd is the key to making these movies work.  Has there ever been a more lovable “regular dude?”  His character, Scott Lang, is brave but not too brave.  Smart but not too smart.  Tough, but not too tough.  What he is, though, is a great friend and an even better father.  I won’t lie–there were a few scenes with his daughter that made me tear-up.

These scenes weren’t heart-breakers, though, just the opposite.  The scenes with his daughter were touching, uplifting, and positive.

In fact, I think I like the Ant-Man movies so much because they are light-hearted, action-packed comedies.  I was either laughing or marveling (again, no pun intended) through the entirety of Ant-Man and the Wasp.

There’s much to marvel at, by the way.  The special effects are unreal in this movie.  First of all, they pulled their de-aging trick again, and it’s flawless.  Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Laurence Fishburne all get the treatment for flashback scenes, and I swear I felt like I’d entered a time machine.  It was astounding.  Rudd and Lilly are shrinking and growing, shrinking and growing nonstop!  Cars, houses, buildings, even PEZ dispensers are shrinking and growing, too!  The Wasp’s aerial combat is mesmerizing, and Ghost’s phasing is phenomenal.  Even the giant ants look perfect.

All in all, Ant-Man and the Wasp is just plain fun, and in an era of very heavy super hero movies, this action-comedy is really a breath of fresh air.  Imagine that?  A fun super hero movie that celebrates the bonds between friends, partners, and family.

There are two post-credits scenes, by the way.  The first one comes pretty quick after the credits start rolling.  It’s fairly important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline.  The other one is not important at all, but worth seeing if you don’t have anywhere to be.  You could skip the second one and be fine.

I wholly recommend that you see Ant-Man and the Wasp.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

The Beach by Alex Garland – A Book Review

Yes, it’s true, I’m reviewing a book that’s been on the market for over twenty years.  The truth is, I’ve grown to greatly appreciate Garland’s film directing and wanted to check out his written work.

The Beach, which you may remember was a film released back in 2000 which starred Leonardo DiCaprio, was based upon the book published just four years prior.

It features Richard, a young man who suffers from a seemingly permanent case of wanderlust.  He is constantly searching for the perfect destination–a place untouched by tourism, commercialism, or average people, really.  While in Bangkok, he happens across a man who gives him a map to just such a place.

The man cannot travel with Richard, and I won’t tell you why, but Richard does manage to befriend a French man and woman–a couple–to join him.  None are sure the map is real, but they chance it anyway.  After a courageous swim through the ocean itself … they find the beach.

The beach seems idyllic in the beginning.  There is a small group of people living in tandem with one another–all vested in the same interests.  Life is very good … until ill-timed tragedies strike.  The group could handle these adversities well, or they could … fall apart.  I’m sure can guess which occurs.

The Beach is a well-written book.  At almost 450 pages, it’s a long read, but it’s also a relatively fast one.  I would not describe it as a page-turner, but Richard’s psyche is particularly interesting and it’s fascinating to witness his development throughout the story.

The tale itself is rather complicated.  On one hand, the beach dwellers are in love with nature, independence, and a simple life.  They are perfectly happy to pull their weight, support one another, and waste the days away in paradise.  On the other hand, a certain selfishness resides in each of them, as does a touch of irresponsibility.  The beach is a total secret, one worth killing for, and everyone there has decided to turn their backs on their previous lives in order to enjoy their Eden.  It takes a bit of a misguided person to go to such an extreme, wouldn’t you say?

Garland executes perfect pacing in establishing Richard, logically delivering him to the beach, allowing us to see the beauty of the island, but then also in dissecting each character as catastrophe unfolds.

After all, when you think about it, if each one of these individuals was willing to turn their backs to their own flesh and blood, how much can they really depend upon one another when things go bad?

Some have compared it to Lord Of the Flies as well as Heart Of Darkness, and these are certainly appropriate comparisons.  I personally don’t feel it achieved that level of mastery, but it’s a solid read well worth your time.

As I said, Garland was a very good writer back then and has only gotten better.  His characters in The Beach are interesting from start to finish.  The story itself, while enjoyable, felt awfully derivative of the classics mentioned already.  I have to wonder if I’d feel differently had I read it back in 1996.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)