Films of 2021

Here are all the films I’ve watched this year. My film-related goals of the year include watching 52 Films by Women (both films directed by and written by women) which would be my sixth year of completing this challenge, and to make an effort to watch my Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock boxsets. You can find out more about what I’m watching on my Twitter or Letterboxd – I sometimes write a couple of lines of my thoughts of a film on Twitter/Letterboxd rather than writing a full review here.

Without further ado, here’s what I’ve watched in 2021! Film titles in bold are films I saw at the cinema (if/when they’re open again) and films with an asterisk are rewatches. Any title with a hyperlink goes to its review – whether that’s here on my blog or on JumpCut Online which I contribute to.

January:
– Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Take the Ball, Pass the Ball (2018)
– Los secretos de La Roja – Campeones del mundo (2020)
– Fernando Torres: The Unexpected Hero (2020)
– Andrés Iniesta: The Unexpected Hero (2020)
– The Beguiled (2017)
– The Secret of Kells (2009)
– Epic (2013)
– We Can Be Heroes (2020)
– The Way I See It (2020)
The Untouchables (1987)
– One Man and His Shoes (2020)
Over the Moon (2020)
– Time (2020)
– The Vast of Night (2019)
– Outside the Wire (2021)
– Collateral (2004)

Number of different films watched: 17

READ THE WORLD – Mongolia: The End of the Dark Era by Tseveendorjin Oidov

Translated by Simon Wickhamsmith.

The End of the Dark Era is the first book of Mongolian poetry to be published in the United States, and one of the few avant-garde collections to have come from the vast steppes of Mongolia.

One of my favourite things with translated poetry is when on one page is the poem in the original language and on the opposite page is the translation. Even if you can’t read the original language, or make much sense of it at all when it’s in a completely different alphabet like here, it’s cool to see how the poem was originally laid out, how many lines there were and how much space it took up.

The first half of The End of the Dark Era is poems from between 1975-1983 and they’re all about a page long. A lot of them are about nature, or paint vivid scenes of the ocean, rocks or forests through them. There’s a distanced or almost dreamlike quality to a lot of them, and some feel like little mini stories being told to you.

The second half of the collection is called “Advantgardism” and is a collection of short fictions. Each poem or fiction is no more than five lines long and each are accompanied by an illustration by the author on the opposite page. The illustrations are all line drawings of horses in different poses. Personally, I found the illustrations more interesting than the writing, they were just unlike any illustrations I’d really seen before and they manage to make the horse look animated which is impressive. Though I did like how the words and image complemented each other.

I think the poems of Tseveendorjin Oidov are not for me. A few are brief but effective, but most seem to be the kind of poetry that I just don’t understand or would better understand if I had someone to guide me through them. Apparently, Tseveendorjin Oidov is considered to be the first Mongolian modernist and modernism is something I could never really get my head around – even when I studied it a bit at university. Maybe if you’re a modernist fan you should try some translated Mongolian modernist poetry and see how that compares to Western modernism writing.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Meant to Read In 2020 but Didn’t Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. I love to look back at previous TBR’s and see what books are still waiting to be read. There were definitely a lot of books for my Read the World Project I didn’t manage to get to and my reading slump at the end of 2020 (which I’m slowly getting out of) didn’t help matters.

The first five on this list are books that featured on various Top Ten Tuesday’s or readathon TBR’s in 2020, and the other five are books I was looking forward to reading but I don’t think I’ve mentioned them here before.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
This is my book for Togo in my Read the World Project. I think it’ll be really interesting to see how a Togolese man becomes fascinated by Greenland and his determination to go there.

Beyond the Rice Fields by Naivo
This is the first novel from Madagascar to ever be translated into English and it’s set in the nineteenth century and it’s about the relationship between a slave and his master’s daughter.

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić
I actually started to read this before 2020 but I only got a few pages before I realised I wasn’t in the mood for it. I always meant to get back to it soon.

Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi
This will be my Kuwait read for the Read the World Project and is about friendship and protest.

Palestine+100 edited by Basma Ghalayini
This is a short story collection which has a range of genres, science-fiction, dystopia, noir and is about what the future of Palestine might look like.

The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Silá
This is the first novel to be translated into English from Guinea Bissau and is about a girl who leaves her village to seek a better life in the capital, finding work as a maid for a Portuguese family.

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix
The Old Kingdom series is one of my favourites and is a formative influence but I haven’t really read any of his recent books and I want to fix that.

The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio
The first novel by a female author to be published in Cape Verde, and the first to be translated into English. Serrano is an isolated village where a madwoman roams. But is she really mad or is she marginalised because she is wise and a woman?

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
While I have heard this book isn’t as good as the first, and I’m unsure if this series is a duology or more it has more books to come, I did really like Children of Blood and Bone (except the romance/love interest) so I’m interested in seeing what happens next.

The Cost of Sugar by Cynthia McLeod
It follows two Jewish stepsisters, Elza and Sarith, descendants of the settlers and their pampered existences become intertwined with the fate of the plantations as the slaves decide to fight against the violent repression they have endured for too long.

What books did you mean to get to last year?

REVIEW: Over the Moon (2020)

Fuelled with determination and a passion for science, a bright young Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) builds a rocket ship to the moon to prove the existence of the legendary Moon Goddess Chang’e (Phillipa Soo).

First off, Over the Moon is a musical which I didn’t realise going into it, but I didn’t mind that one bit. The songs and music add so much to Fei Fei’s story. Most are like thoughtful and touching ballads, “Love Someone New” made me bawl my eyes out, and then you get “Ultraluminary” which is the perfectly catchy, upbeat pop song. As soon as it started it reminded me of the best kind of Eurovision song which is the highest compliment.

The animation is beautiful too, especially once Fei Fei gets to the moon. What’s really cool is that both the songs and the animation are different depending if the story is taking place on Earth or on the moon, helping the moon to be its own character. On Earth the animation is pretty much what audiences are used to, but then on the moon everything is bright colours and shapes and its so luminous and different to what Fei Fei is used to.

Over the Moon is a heartfelt film. While there is the fantastical element of having an adventure on the moon and seeking out a legendary Goddess, at its heart Over the Moon is about grief and moving on. Fei Fei still loves and misses her mother and while her father is starting to move on, has met someone new who brings her annoying eight-year-old son Chin (Robert G. Chu) into Fei Fei’s life, Fei Fei sees that as a betrayal of her mother and of their love. She’s a big believer of immortal love thanks to the stories her mother raised her on, so seeing her dad move on is painful for her.

Over the Moon is a great exploration of grief and how even if someone is gone, it doesn’t mean you stop loving them, or that you can’t ever love anyone else. It’s an important message and is one that’s handled in way that’s easy for younger audience to understand thanks to the songs. “Wonderful” (sung by Ken Jeong as a glowing green creature) is a great example as it’s all about moving on without forgetting.

The pacing in Over the Moon could be a little tighter, the stuff on the moon flies by compared to some of the set up on Earth, but besides from that minor complaint Over the Moon is just a gorgeous, animated film with important themes. I laughed, I cried, and it was just a beautiful and fun story about a young girl doing what she needs to do in order to be happy again. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Slovakia: The Equestrienne by Uršuľa Kovalyk

Translated by Julia Sherwood and Peter Sherwood.

1984, in a small town in the east of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, Karolína is growing up. Her mother has too many boyfriends and her forceful but caring grandmother carries a knife. In an attempt to escape her hard and monotonous life, Karolína joins a riding school at the edge of town. There she befriends Romana, a girl with one leg shorter than the other, and Matilda, a rider and trainer who helps the girls overcome their physical limitations. Together they form a successful trick riding team and soon the small town doesn’t seem so small anymore for Karolína.

The blurb on my copy of The Equestrienne calls it a novel, but at 80 pages I’d say it’s more of a novella. Either way, The Equestrienne is a short, kind of bittersweet coming of age story. I always find it difficult to talk about such short books that are focussed on a short period of time. It spans about sixteen years as that’s roughly the age Karolína is when the story ends, but a lot of her childhood is glossed over and it’s when she’s around twelve and discovers the stables – along with a teenage boy called Arpi – that she starts to come into her own. At the stables Karolína makes a friend for the first time. And with Arpi she discovers cigarettes and music like Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones.

Change is a big element to The Equestrienne and Karolína’s life. Naturally, she’s growing up and maturing, having her first period has a big impact on her, but there’s the political changes happening in the background as the Soviet Union begins to dissolve. There’s a lot of moments of hope because of these changes, but equally there’s disappointment as they go from one dictatorship to another – capitalism.

The women in The Equestrienne are all fleshed out and interesting, which is a feat considering how short it is, and the only named male character is Arpi. All the other men are pushed to the background or become a threat to Karolína’s happiness or safety. The relationships between the different female characters are strong too. Karolína’s grandmother makes a huge impact on her life as she’s a force to be reckoned with and while to begin with Karolína often doesn’t understand or like her mother and her choices, as she matures she see’s the everyday strains she’s under. Then Matilda and Romana each give Karolína confidence and companionship in a time when she felt so alone.

The Equestrienne is a short but effective story that’s sad and sweet. It’s a universal coming of age story, but by having it set in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic means you can learn more about that culture and history and how things like the economy affected its people. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Untouchables (1987)

During the era of Prohibition in the United States, Federal Agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) sets out to stop ruthless Chicago gangster Al Capone (Robert De Niro) and, because of rampant corruption, assembles a small, hand-picked team to help him – veteran beat cop Jim Malone (Sean Connery), trainee George Stone (Andy Garcia) and accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith).

From the opening credits I was instantly intrigued by The Untouchables and that’s thanks to Ennio Morricone’s score. The harmonica slowly amps up the tension and intrigue while the drumbeat gets your heart pounding. It’s an example of one of the main action themes that is present throughout the film and you soon learn that when you hear that sound, something big is about to happen.

The whole cast is great in their roles. Costner brings the almost naivety to Eliot Ness, who has a big task ahead of him going after Al Capone. As Ness and his team close in on Capone’s operation, you see the steely determination come through and how far Ness is willing to go for justice. It’s unsurprising that Sean Connery won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as he steals pretty much every scene he’s in. Malone is Ness’ guide and the scene with the two of them in a church, discussing how far they’ll go is a standout. Garcia’s Stone is a sharpshooter but honest while Martin Smith’s Wallace is more of a nerdy guy but the pair of them round out this unlikely team well.

The raids, shootouts and stakeouts are all a great balance of tension and payoff. The shootouts are exciting and entertaining but it’s the quieter moments like when a character is being stalked by another that really puts you on edge.

The filming techniques used in The Untouchables help make this film stand out in the crime drama genre. The scene with Ness and Malone in the church is filmed with a Split Diopter lens, making both characters in focus, there’s extreme closeups of Ness’ eyes at key moments, the camera sometimes acts like a characters point of view, only giving you the viewer so much information, and slow-motion is used to great affect in one of the final shootouts in the film. While The Untouchables is certainly a slick, crime drama it’s these little touches that help elevate the film. The costuming deserves a mention too as everyone’s suits add to their characters – Stone’s leather jacket is a personal highlight.

The Untouchables is slick, tense and thrilling as Ness and his men battle corruption and Capone’s men at every turn in order to bring the man to justice. The characters are all great individually but it’s how these four men work together and put aside any differences that’s really compelling. 5/5.

My Film Year in Review and my Film-related Goals of 2021

What with 2020 being what it was, my film-watching didn’t really take a hit. I watched 265 different films and of those films, 93 of them were rewatches. I think with everything going on I definitely enjoyed revisiting old favourites, where I knew the story so didn’t necessarily have to think too much. I did manage to see 16 films in the cinema in 2020, pre-pandemic and in between the various lockdowns the UK has had. I shared my Ten Favourite Films last month, in some ways it was hard to pick favourites as I felt I hadn’t seen many new UK releases what with everything else going on, but I really would recommend all the films I mentioned in that post.

I completed the 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and screenwriters again, which was the fifth year in a row. I watched 57 films directed by women and 70 that were written by women.

I did make some headway with my unwatched DVDs and Blu-Rays! That’s thanks to the A-Z in April Challenge where I posted a film review for every letter of the alphabet. Now I have 63 unwatched physical films so that’s good. I did watch some of my Clint Eastwood and Alfred Hitchcock boxsets but I still have over 10 films in each boxset.

I didn’t spend much time watching TV series in 2020 (what a surprise!) but I did finally finish watching Shadowhunters and I was really happy with how they managed to wrap everything up. I also watched series two of The Alienist and His Dark Materials, Good Omens and Down to Earth with Zac Efron, which I all really enjoyed in different ways. My newest TV obsession is Cobra Kai, I watched the first two seasons in one weekend in September and fell in love with it, then I watched season three in two days at the beginning of the month and even got my mum into it. I love that show a whole lot.

Now it’s time for the fun actor and director stats I get from having a Letterboxd pro account.

My most watched actors of 2020 were:

I watched the Underworld series, the Karate Kid series and the Descendants trilogy for the first time, and I rewatched the entire MCU in April/May (and wrote about how that helped me grieve for my dad). I also rewatched The Chronicles of Narnia, the original Ocean’s trilogy, the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (that was back in January and wow does that seem like a long time ago!), the Bourne series, the Jurassic Park/World films and The Lord of the Rings – so that explains most of the actors who make an appearance. I also made an effort to watch more of Anton Yelchin, Chadwick Boseman, Kristen Stewart and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s filmographies.

My most watched directors definitely reflect the fact I watched a lot of different series. Kenny Ortega (Descendants), Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s), the Russo brothers and James Gunn (MCU), Paul Greengrass (Bourne), Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean), Steven Spielberg and Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic Park/World), John Avildsen (Karate Kid) and Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings). It’s disappointing but not surprising that it’s just male directors as I didn’t watch many films made by the same woman.

So what are my film-related goals of 2021? I’ll continue to be a mood watcher, there’s loads of films of different genres in my Netflix and Amazon Prime queue to keep me busy as well as the physical films I have. I want to watch 52 Films by Women, both directors and screenwriters, again. I was considering to try and watch one Alfred Hitchcock film, one Clint Eastwood film, and one Studio Ghibli film (they’re all on Netflix and I’ve only ever seen Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle) a week but we’re a week into 2021 and I haven’t watched any of them yet. But I do like that idea and hopefully going forward I’ll watch at least one of those types of films each week.

With regards to TV, I suppose what I’d really like to do in 2021 is finish all the Marvel Netflix series. I’ve watched up to and including season one of The Punisher so that means I have six series left to watch. Speaking of Marvel, I’m really looking forward to all the MCU shows coming to Disney+ this year, with WandVision starting next week. I do think I’m generally better at watching shows when they’re released weekly so I should be able to keep up with them. Otherwise, there are a load of series I’d like to try like The Madalorian, Dickinson and Ted Lasso but I won’t hold out too much hope with that one – I know what I’m like with TV.

Do you have any film or TV-related goals for 2021? If you have a Letterboxd account do let me know so I can follow you.

My reading in 2020 and my bookish goals for 2021

It’s the start of a new year so it’s time to look back at what I read last year, if I met my goals and what my reading aspirations are for 2021. My reading in 2020 started off well and even though for me personally all the terrible things happened in March (my gran, dad and uncle all died in the space of three weeks – none of them covid-related) I actually kept my reading up and had a steady amount of reviews. I think films and books definitely were a big distraction for me in the Spring. It’s towards the end of the year, November/December, time that I got into a big reading slump and just didn’t really want to read anything and struggled with the books I did pick up.

Still, my aim in 2020 was to read 60 books and I read 59. I’m a bit bummed that I just missed that total, especially as I had just over 100 pages of a book to read. That book is The Good Girls by Sara Shepard which I was enjoying but then a character has decided to hide a body when really they probably should’ve called the police (or even just left it there) and it all just seems like it’s just too unbelievable now. Anyway! 59 books is the least amount of books I’ve read in a year for a while now but it’s not surprising when I didn’t really touch a book over the past few months. I reviewed 42 of them while my aim was 30 so that’s good. I’ve got a full list of what I read in 2020 and I’ve already shared my ten favourite books of the year.

Now onto my reading goals. I didn’t sign up for any challenges and instead kept it simple. I did put £1 in a jar for every book I read, but then the world shutdown so I wasn’t going anywhere or spending cash so that didn’t really happen after March. I continued with my Read the World Project and 36 of the books I read were for that, so over half which is good, but I definitely have some catching up to do if I want to meet my original aim of the challenge. I said I’d try again to get my TBR down to 50 books, but I really didn’t try that hard. I did have a big clear out and donated about 20 unread books from my shelves, but I’d also been acquiring a lot of books (mostly for the Read the World Project) so while I started the year with 85 books on my TBR, I’ve ended 2020 with 88 books on my TBR. I don’t think that’s too terrible!

I always try to keep an equal split of male/female authors – or if I do read more then have it be women and I succeeded in that with over 60% of the books I read being by women, and almost 12% were written by both men and women. I said I wanted to have at least 30% of the books I read to be by people of colour and I smashed that target! Over half of the books I read were people of colour and I think the Read the World Project definitely helped with that as I read more books by African and Caribbean authors in 2020.

Now for my 2021 reading goals.

With everything that happened last year, and still is happening this year, I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself. I will be continuing with my Read the World Project and making that a priority. The goal of this project was to read a book from every country in the world before I turned 30 – that happens at the end of September this year and I have 70 books/countries to read and only have 16 books/countries on my TBR. If I’m being honest, I think there’s no way I’m going to read 70 books between now and September and there’s the fact I still need to find/acquire books for over 50 countries still. I think my new goal will be to complete the Read the World Project while I’m still 30 so that does give me an extra 12 months and I hope that’s doable. If you have any suggestions for international authors/books please do let me know. I’m keeping track of all the countries I’ve read so far here.

I’m going to set my Goodreads goal at 52 books, and I’ll aim to review at least half of them. I continue to want to read diversely, and it’d be nice to get my TBR down but I think at the moment with my Read the World Project it’s not realistic to set my TBR goal as 50 books, so instead I’ll put it at 75 – we shall see what happens.

Those are my reading goals for 2021. Very nice and simple ones that will hopefully mean I’m not getting stressed by reading and I hope to get out of my reading slump soon. Do you have any reading goals for 2021? I’d love to hear them.

REVIEW: Take the Ball, Pass the Ball (2018)

Documentary about the Barcelona team led by Pep Guardiola from 2008-2012, how they came to dominate the sport, winning 14 trophies in four years.

I’m not a Barcelona fan, though as Thierry Henry says in this documentary; if you’re a football fan, you’ve got to appreciate how Barcelona play and I certainly do. I am a fan of a lot of players who played for Barcelona during the teams’ heyday as I’m a fan and support of the Spanish National Team and there’s a lot of crossover between the two squads. As I didn’t know or remember a lot of the intricacies about the different players or how the club worked, I found Take the Ball, Pass the Ball to be very interesting.

It’s a pretty standard talking head-type documentary and a lot of former or current Barcelona players discussing things including Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Samuel Eto’o and Víctor Valdés. It’s fun to hear anecdotes and what players really thought, especially on things like the Guardiola-Mourinho rivalry. There were also journalists, including Sid Lowe who wrote Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona Vs Real Madrid, coaches, scouts and players who faced Barcelona on opposing teams.

Take the Ball, Pass the Ball is split into sections, focussing on different aspects that made Barcelona so great during those four years. Naturally there’s Pep Guardiola’s influence and how he motivated and changed the team, the bitter rivalry with Real Madrid, the key matches in the different tournaments that Barcelona went onto win, and the discovery and skills of Lionel Messi plays a big part too.

The thing that was most interesting was learning about the philosophy of Barcelona and where that came from. The short passes and building a team on a strong midfield (Xavi and Iniesta) has gone on to be incorporated into the Spanish National Team’s style of play and while other teams (club and country) around the world are now better at countering this style, at their peak, few could touch Barcelona. I knew nothing of Johan Cruyff before watching Take the Ball, Pass the Ball and to see how his strategies and ideas have continued to be the foundation of Barcelona’s style of since he was the teams’ coach from 1988-1996 is very impressive.

If you’re a fan of Barcelona, or even a fan of football and are interested in how one team dominated so completely then I’d give Take the Ball, Pass the Ball a watch. I enjoyed hearing the players and those involved with the team talk, especially when peoples humour (Valdés) or knowledge (Xavi) shined through. 4/5.

Favourite films of 2020

It’s been a weird year for many reasons and the whole pandemic thing certainly has had an affect on films and when and how they’re released. While I still watched a lot of films throughout the year, there weren’t as many new 2020UK releases. That, along with how this year seems to have gone on forever and it’s hard for me to even remember some of the things I watched and liked months ago, made it a bit difficult to figure out what films I saw and loved this year. Thank goodness for Letterboxd is all I can say.

In no particular order, here are my ten favourite films of 2020.

Enola Holmes
This was an unexpected delight of a film. It’s fun with good performances and a compelling mystery. I really liked the score and how Mille Bobby Brown would break the fourth wall.

Just Mercy
One of the first (and only) films I saw in the cinema this year and I still think about it. Just Mercy is such an important true story and Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are both incredible.

Misbehaviour
This is such a fun biopic. I love the cast, the humour, the story and how it shows the differences between women and what they’re fighting for in different ways.

The Old Guard
Considering we didn’t get many comic book adaptations this year, The Old Guard was my favourite and one of the best in my opinion. I loved the world and the characters and really hope there’s a sequel as there’s so many interesting elements to this story I’d love to see explored.

Dark Waters
I love an investigative true story about the small guy standing up to the big corporation and Dark Waters is just fantastic. It’s tense, compelling and such an unbelievable true story that kept me hooked.

Da 5 Bloods
The performances in Da 5 Bloods are all a standout and I really liked how the flashbacks had the same older actors in them. It’s a powerful film that tackles some difficult themes with some emotional moments.

Herself
I think this technically might be released in early 2021 but I saw it during the London Film Festival in October, and it affected me so much that I had to include it. It’s heartfelt and heart-breaking and powerful.

Miss Americana
Not that I watched many documentaries this year, but Miss Americana was definitely my favourite. It’s really interesting and while I’ve always liked a lot of Taylor Swift’s songs, Miss Americana made me see her in a whole new light.

The Personal History of David Copperfield
I always think that classics are a bit stuffy and boring, but this adaptation of The Personal History of David Copperfield was so much fun! I loved the costumes, the cast and how the story was told, it’s so quirky and really engaging.

Underwater
I’m a big wuss but I really liked how Underwater built the tension and creepiness. Plus, I thought Kristen Stewart was great in it.

What were some of your favourite films of the year?