REVIEW: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Suffering from a series of panic attacks after the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) also must deal with the threat of the terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).

Shane Black takes over as director in Iron Man 3, and as cowriter as well, his influence is all over this film and that’s not a bad thing. It is funny while still pushing its characters to the edge. It introduces some interesting new characters such as Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who you’re never really sure if you can trust, and Harley (Ty Simpkins) a boy who helps Tony out in his time of need and there’s some great dialogue between the two of them and JARVIS (Paul Bettany).

One of the great things about Iron Man 3, is that it allows its hero to suffer. Tony is not the same man after what he experienced in New York, he has nightmares and can’t stop making more and more of his suits of armour. He’s frightened of losing those he cares about, namely his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his friends Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Most of the time we spend with Tony during this film, he’s out of the suit and has to rely on his own wits and mechanical ability to save himself, never mind the rest of the world. The scenes of Tony making gadgets to take on the bad guys really reminds the audience just how smart and capable this guy is – after all, he’s the guy who built a miniaturised arc reactor in a cave with a box of scraps.

While Iron Man 3 is more of a serious film compared to Tony Stark’s previous outings, it’s not dark and gritty, instead it’s fun and witty while still showing a different side to these characters. The film speeds along with action sequences that use the Iron Man suits like we’ve not seen before and has some surprises too.

Ben Kingsley is brilliant in this as the villain of the piece. It’s not faithful to the comic books, and some people probably don’t like that, but personally I think this version of the Mandarin is genius. It turns the character on its head and puts a different face to terrorism to that we usually see in big Hollywood films.

Iron Man 3 is an entertaining adventure with some impressive action sequences and a whole lot of heart. If you weren’t a Tony Stark fan before this film, then I’m sure you will be by the time this film is finished. 4/5.

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London Bookshop Crawl 2018

This time last week the London Bookshop Crawl was just beginning. A weekend-long celebration of books and bookshops across London, there was event, guided bookshop crawls, book swaps and so much more with the dozens of bookshops taking part.

I only took part in the London Bookshop Crawl on the Saturday, but I still had an amazing time. I had gotten a ticket for the guided tour around Waterloo & Southbank and there I met fellow bookish people – both old (previous bookshop crawl participants I’d met on previous years) and new. The tour was led by Cathryn and she was very friendly and knowledgeable throughout the tour and brought a great energy to the group.

We met in Starbucks for coffee and sustenance, so we’d be ready for all the bookshops! Then it was off to Somerset House Bookshop. This shop was full of beautiful illustrated books, both for children and adults. There were so many cool books there, but I managed to restrain myself and just by the one – I Know a Woman by Kate Hodges and illustrated by Sarah Papworth. This book is all about famous and influential women throughout history and the connections they have with other women. I fell in love with the art style and how vibrant the illustrations are and I always like to learn more about women that history might have forgotten.

Next, we had a walk across to the other side of the Thames to go to the National Theatre Bookshop. Naturally, there were a lot of plays and books about drama and theatre criticism but there were also some more generally fiction books and some interesting gifts too.

Then we had a little bit of a walk to The Bookshop Theatre which had an eclectic mix of plays and political and philosophical theory books. It had a mixture of new and second-hand books which was nice. There I bought an illustrated Folio Society edition of Othello by Shakespeare. I’ve not read Othello before and know very little about it, but my best friend said she’s taught it for A-Level and both she and the kids in her class really enjoy it.

Just around the corner from The Bookshop Theatre (or least that’s how it felt to me) was Travelling Through… and this was my favourite new-to-me bookshop on the crawl. It’s got a great selection of books from around the world from international authors as well as some second-hand books and a cute café downstairs. The staff were very nice and friendly too. There I bought three books that will be perfect for my Read the World ProjectDust by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuro my read for Kenya and actually a book I had my eye on before the bookshop crawl, everything else were impulse buys, Allah is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma, a book for Côte d’Ivoire, and So the Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist which will probably be my read for Sierra Leone. I will definitely be visiting Travelling Through… again next time I’m in that part of London.

The next and final stop on the guided tour was to The Feminist Library – a place I would’ve loved to visit because it sounded like it stocks just my sort of books, but I was meeting the aforementioned best friend for a late lunch. I said goodbye to my fellow crawlers and vowed to go to The Feminist Library soon.

But I had time to visit one more bookshop as I was meeting my bestie at Daunt Books in Marleybone. I first visited Daunt on last years bookshop crawl and I have been back multiple times since, so as I was in London I just had to go there. In Daunt I bought two more books I could use for my Read the World Project, The Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić, potentially my read for Croatia, and A Fortune Foretold by Agneta Pleijel, a book I first picked up because of the texture of the cover was so unusual and now it’s likely to be my pick for Sweden.

And that was me done for the London Bookshop Crawl 2018. Five bookshops, four of which were new to me, and seven shiny new books brought home. I had a wonderful time on the crawl, talking all things books and giving and receiving recommendations. My feet and shoulders (from a heavy backpack) were definitely sore by the time I got home but it was worth it.

This was the third year of the London bookshop crawl and I love how much it has grown in such a short space of time. If you’re interested in the bookshop crawl check out the website and there’s due to be two Summer Bookshop Crawls, one in York and another in Canterbury, so if you’re interested in either of them make sure you follow the Twitter account and sign up for updates via the website.

Until February 2019 and the next London Bookshop Crawl! I better get reading!

READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.

REVIEW: Black Panther (2018)

Still reeling after his father’s death, T’Challa (Chadwicke Boseman) returns to the secretive country of Wakanda to take up the mantle of King. Soon his judgement and resolve are tested when old enemy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) resurfaces and brings with him a perhaps even deadly foe – Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Black Panther is a lot of firsts – first film in the MCU with a black superhero as the titular character, first film in the MCU not directed by a white guy, and first big budget superhero film in general that brings this many talented black actors into a place in our world that’s never been colonised nor had any outside influence throughout its history.

Wakanda is a vivid and fleshed-out country – so much so it’s like it’s its own character. The buildings, the vehicles, the technology and the clothes are all a mixture of the future and the traditional. Merging the real and the imaginary helps make Wakanda feel like a real, lived-in place and overall special effects in Black Panther are incredibly well-done. Subsequently when there are those moments where the CGI isn’t to the same level as the rest of the film, it’s more jarring which is unfortunate. Wakanda is a place that has been left to thrive by the rest of the world and thanks to its many scientists and inventors, including T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Shuri is a character who steals just about every scene she’s in with her humour and relatability. She and T’Challa feel like proper siblings, and with their mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) are a strong family unit.

In some ways Black Panther feels like more of an ensemble film because there are so many great, fleshed-out characters surrounding T’Challa. There’s Okoye (Danai Guria) the head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all female security force, who is such a badass, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) a spy for Wakanda, and M’Baku (Winston Duke) leader of the Jabari Tribe who is a surprisingly layered character. Every single one of them have their moments to shine but T’Challa is rarely upstaged thanks to Boseman’s stoic yet compelling performance as a man trying to be both a king and a superhero. Killmonger is a great villain and a worthy adversary for T’Challa. He’s a fascinating villain because while it’s clear he’s the bad guy, the way he states his reasoning makes you get where he’s coming from. His actions are in no way condonable but the reasons for his actions are understandable.

The pacing in Black Panther is a little uneven at times. There is a lot to set up in showing Wakanda and introducing this society and its people which is great and very enjoyable, but there’s something’s that could either have had more detail or have been briefer and have still gotten across the same information.

Black Panther is a great film. It’s exciting and surprisingly funny – it perfectly balances the humour, which is mostly character-driven, and its serious moments. Black Panther covers a lot of genres, it’s political, it’s like an espionage thriller in some ways, it’s about family and legacy, as well as being an action-packed superhero movie. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Avengers (2012)

When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth with plans to enslave humanity, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to bring together a team of volatile people, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Rufalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who have the potential to be heroes.

The Avengers is a payoff for forward planning and investing in your characters. It’s hard to believe it now but The Avengers was a bit of a risky move. Yes, there were five films setting up these characters and all previous films were generally well-received and made a lot of money, but that was no guarantee that The Avengers would be a good movie that could balance its large cast of characters, each with their own extensive backstory and big personalities. Luckily, The Avengers managed to do just that.

The Avengers has spectacular set pieces with each action or fight sequence almost better than the last. There is a lot of conflict in this film, whether it’s the heroes against the villains or even the heroes amongst themselves. These are larger than life characters and they do clash, but that makes the moments when they come together as a team all that more satisfying.

The Avengers could have very easily been the Tony Stark Show thanks to him not only being a character we’ve seen the most but also because of Downey Jr’s natural charisma. However, thanks to a clever script that’s not the case. Each character gets their moment in the spotlight, secondary characters like Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) even get a moment of badassery. The script also allows time for these characters to grow while still having a firm understanding each of their motivations.

One of the highest compliments I can give The Avengers is that it feels like a comic book brought to life. The witty one-liners characters have, the way the script drops titbits of characters history or motivations with ease, and how vibrant and exciting it is. There’s a tracking shot, in the final battle, that’s almost lifted from the pages of a comic book with the way the camera moves from one character to another as they fight as a unit.

The Avengers is great because no matter the number of explosions and fights, it never forgets the characters humanity. There’s a real threat from Loki’s actions, as well as from the fact both the heroes and the audience are not sure they can trust Nick Fury and SHIELD. The Avengers is fast-paced, thrilling and funny. Seeing these characters together on screen is a joy, especially as the whole cast give great performances and all have brilliant chemistry with one another. It is one of the best superhero films, and Marvel Studios should be admired for successfully creating a cinematic universe, that so many other studios have been attempting to emulate ever since. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Afghanistan: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Ten-year-old Abdullah and his little sister Pari live with their family in the small village of Shadbagh in Afghanistan. They are as close as two people can be but when circumstances outside of their control separates them they both go different life-long journeys, where they struggle to keep their connection alive.

I’ve had And the Mountains Echoed sitting unread on my shelves for a couple of years now, but it was only when I got the audiobook (narrated by Khaled Hosseini, Navid Negahban and Shohreh Aghdashloo) from my library, that I finally got around to reading it and I’m so glad I did.

Khaled Hosseini is probably most famous for writing The Kite Runner, but this is the first book I’ve read by him. It was a very enjoyable book that’s often devastating but does offer a sense of hope. The writing is really good, there are so many touching and thought-provoking quotes, and the way Hosseini gets you connected to these characters is to be admired as there’s a lot of them.

And the Mountains Echoed not only follows Abdullah and Pari, but characters related to them or characters they’ve met briefly at one point or another. It’s sometimes a little disorientating as each chapter is from a different character’s point of view and at the beginning of each chapter its not made clear, whose perspective we’re now in. In a way, this makes And the Mountains Echoed a bit like a mystery. You are given different perspectives of different events, that all somehow relate to the main plot-thread but it’s up to you as the reader to figure out how these characters and events are all connected.

You don’t just get to see how characters change over time in And the Mountains Echoed, but countries and their people too. The book spans almost 60 years, starting in 1952 and the last chapter taking place in 2010. Through this time, you get to see Afghanistan as a country evolve. Characters live through prosperous times and times of conflict, it is often everyday life for them as it’s their home. While for other characters who have emigrated and then returned, they don’t always feel at home there anymore.

And the Mountains Echoed is about family, heritage, culture, and the connections people make with others and places. It’s finding about finding loved ones and a place to call home. It’s a touching story that while is often sad, as it follows the all to real traumas of everyday life – sudden death of a loved one, old age, and disagreements with family – it also has moments of light-heartedness and optimism about life. 4/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books That Have Been On My TBR the Longest and I Still Haven’t Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018. As the title suggests, this week is all about those books we bought and totally meant to read them and still haven’t. Oops!

In no particular order, here’s the ten books that have been sitting unread on my shelves for the longest.

The Time in Between by Nancy Tucker
Thanks to an Instagram pic of a bookhaul I can tell you when this book came in my possession – August 2015! And I still haven’t read it. it’s a non-fiction book and I’m not always in the mood for that so I think that’s one of the reasons I just haven’t got to it yet.

Truthwitch by Susan Denard
I got this in an Illumicrate box in early 2016 and I still haven’t read it. I did try it when I first got it, but I didn’t make it past the first 20 pages. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood for it? I do want to give Truthwitch another go as I’ve heard nothing but great things about the series.

Uprooted by Naomi Novak
I’ve got Uprooted in the hardback, and I think I got it for either my birthday or Christmas so that means it came to me late 2015. I think this was another book I wanted because everyone was talking about it and then because of the hype I put off reading it.     (more…)