REVIEW: Stan & Ollie (2018)

Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) attempt to reignite their film career as they embark on a gruelling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Stan & Ollie opens with a four or five-minute-long tracking shot of Laurel and Hardy as they make their way through a film studio, passing cowboys, Roman soldiers and crew members, as they discuss their marital situations and their next move career-wise. This was a great way to introduce these two men and show off how films were made, and the stars were controlled in the Classical Hollywood era.

Soon after that though it’s 1957 and Laurel and Hardy aren’t as young or as famous as they used to be. Coogan and Reilly both do a great job in their roles. They’re clearly having a lot of fun with the slapstick sketches, which are fun to watch too, but they both are well-suited to the more dramatic and emotional moments too. There’s a lot of history between the Laurel and Hardy we follow here, but there’s a deep friendship too. Great performances and cracking chemistry make them a compelling duo.

The supporting cast are great too and the whole film is almost stolen by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson, playing Ida and Lucille, Laurel and Hardy’s wives respectively. The majority of the laughs come from these two. Their interactions with each other are often scathing and witty, while their interactions with their husbands are equal parts caring and amusing.

Stan & Ollie is lovely and charming. As someone who knew little to nothing about Laurel and Hardy before seeing this film, I found it accessible, engaging and fun. It’s not exactly ground-breaking in terms of what a biopic can be, but the performances make this film more than worth the price of admission. 4/5.

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My Reading in 2018 and Goals for 2019

Slightly later than usual (but it’s still the first half of January so it’s all good) but here’s where I look back on what and how I read in 2018 and my reading plans for 2019. In 2018 I read 72 books which beat my goal of 52 books and I reviewed 55 of them which was way better than my goal of reviewing 26 of them. You can find all the books I read here, and I posted my Top Ten books of 2018 earlier this month here.

I had a fair few reading challenges and goals for 2018 and I completed most of them. I continued to put £1 in a jar for every book I read so that gave me £72 to put in the bank at the end of the year which was a nice bonus. I continued with my Read the World Project and 31 of the books I read in 2018 were for that project.

I signed up for three reading challenges in 2018 because I love being overconfident! They were the Beat the Backlist Challenge which even though the majority of what I read was backlist, I’d always forget to put reviews on Amazon and/or link the reviews on the host’s site, so I didn’t really complete that challenge in that sense though I did surpass my target of 30 back list books. Then there was the A-Z Reading Challenge and the Monthly Motif Challenge – I completed both of those which I was really happy about.

I tried to get my TBR down to 50 books – I say “tried” but I’m not sure I really did. I acquired 53 books in 2018, from buying them myself, gifts or subscription boxes, and I read 28 of them. The other books I read were a mixture of books I owned pre-2018 and books from the library – I really embraced the library and borrowing audiobooks from there this year. I didn’t really get my TBR down at all; I started 2018 with 100 books on my TBR and finished it with 100 books on my TBR so at least it didn’t grow any bigger! It was a bit of a bummer though because looking at the numbers it did nothing about the unread books I own even though I did read a lot. Oh well! Maybe I’m destined to have piles of books around me!

It wasn’t a goal, but I do like to keep track of who’s writing what I’m writing. I always aim to have an equal split between male and female authors and I couldn’t have gotten a more even split in 2018 if I’d tried!

Now for my reading goals in 2019.

I’m keeping it super simple this year. I haven’t signed up for any reading challenges and I don’t plan to. I’m setting my reading goal at 52 books again and that I’ll review at least 26 of them. I think it’s good to at least set some achievable goals.

I’m going to continue to put £1 in a jar for every book I read as it’s a nice little financial boost at the end of the year, and I will once again aim to get down to 50 unread books on my TBR. It’s kind of a tradition at this point to say that so I might as well continue. It would be good if I could keep an equal split of male and female authors though I don’t mind if there’s more women authors as I do tend to read more books by women. Also, I’m thinking about tracking the split between white authors and authors of colour, I’d hope that at least 25% of the books I read are by non-white authors.

I think my main reading goal for 2019 is to focus on my Read the World Project. From the outset I wanted to read a book from every country in the world before I was 30. That’s in 2 years and 9 months-ish and I have about 150 countries left to read so I need to read about 50 books from around the world this year in order to make a dent. I own 14 books that are for this project and I’m definitely going to be getting more from the library, even in physical or audio form.

There’s my reading goals for 2019. Do you have any reading goals for the year? Or are you being a bit more relaxed about reading this year? I’d love to know about your reading goals and any tricks you might have to help achieve them.

REVIEW: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench emerge, the trolls set out to take her apart. Izzy, along with her best friend Ajita, sets out to figure out who’s behind the vicious website while still trying to maintain her grades, humour and sanity. Izzy is about to find out that the way the world treats girls is not okay, and she’s not going to stand for it.

I loved this book so much. This review is probably just going to be me gushing about how The Exact Opposite of Okay gave me all the feels. It’s been so long since I’ve fallen so hard and fast for a book and a main character. I read some five star reads last year but none of those books were ones that I devoured quite like The Exact Opposite of Okay. I read most of this book in one sitting, and to be honest if I’d started it earlier on on the day I first picked it up, I’d probably have read it in one day too.

Izzy is just a phenomenal character. I loved her sense of humour and how she uses that and sarcasm to keep people at bay and to cover up how she really feels. (That’s something I can relate to) I also love how self-aware she is, she knows her faults even if she often tries to hide them from everyone else.

Izzy is a great character as while she readily admits she likes sex and dislikes the double standard men and women are held to when it comes to sex and their sexuality, it doesn’t mean that she’s not hurt, confused and ashamed when private photos of her are spread all over the internet. It’s one thing being confident in what and who you want, but it’s another when all your decisions and appearance is being scrutinised by not only everyone at your school, but all over the world.

I loved Izzy’s friendship with Ajita, how the two of them know each other so well and while they are from different backgrounds that can put them at a disadvantage in the world, Izzy is poor and Ajita is Nepalese-American, they can sympathise with each other over those things because they are unfair in different ways but they never presume one of their issues is bigger or worse than the others.

Izzy and Ajita’s other friend Danny is also important to them both but his behaviour and entitlement put my back up from the very beginning. He and Izzy had been friends since childhood but from the start of the book it’s clear he’s realised he likes Izzy more than just a friend and doesn’t handle the situation well. Danny was a great yet pretty unlikable character for the most part, and that’s because he’s so well-written and believable. I’m sure many women know or have known someone like Danny.

I really like the way The Exact Opposite of Okay was written. It’s all Izzy’s personal blog posts, but with little interjections from future-Izzy along the way. As someone who has had a blog in some shape or form for close to 15 years (I had a LiveJournal and all teenage-me’s deepest hopes and fears are there) I thought it captured the way people can sort of write like a stream of conscious about something that happened perfectly.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a brilliant story about slut-shaming, revenge porn, and the so-called Friend Zone. It’s funny, unapologetic and truthful as you are willing Izzy to be strong and get through something terrible that she didn’t deserve. Because that’s the thing The Exact Opposite of Okay does so well, it shows Izzy’s struggle with guilt and feeling like she deserves the cruel comments and everything that goes with private images being shared online, but she doesn’t and it’s very clear about who’s in the wrong in the situation and that’s who made the website. We’re just over a week into 2019, but I doubt I’ll love another book this year like I love this one. 5/5.

My Film Year in Review and my Film Related Goals of 2019

To say I had a good year when it comes to films in 2018 would be an understatement. Amazingly, I watched 365 different films in 2018! This wasn’t an intended goal but by around March/April time, when I was looking at my Letterboxd diary, I realised that I’d watched more films than days in the year so far. After that I decided to try and keep that up and try and hit 365 films. You can see a list of all the films I watched here and my Top Ten Favourite films of 2018 are here.

As for my film-related goals that I actually set, I did pretty well with those too. I wanted to complete the 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and screenwriters and thanks to the number of films I watched, I managed to get way over 52 films for both directors and screenwriters. I watched 75 films directed by women (you can see the full list of them here) and 112 films that were written by women – my list of those films are on Letterboxd here.

I wanted to cut down on my unwatched DVD’s/Blu-Rays but that didn’t really happen, mainly because I fully embraced Netflix and Amazon Prime this year. I mentioned that I wanted to watch the rest of my Clint Eastwood boxset which didn’t happen, but I watched about 4 of those films so I’ve got over 20 films left to watch.

I have a Pro membership on Letterboxd and I love looking at the stats it gives me for the year.

My most watched actors were:

I started rewatching all the films in the MCU at the end of December 2017 so that rewatch continued into 2018. I watched The AvengersAvengers: Infinity War in 2018 so that’s why there’s 8 actors here who have been in at least one MCU film. I also rewatched the Harry Potter series so that counts for most of the rest of the actors on the list really. Though I did use Netflix and Amazon Prime to find and watch films starring Robert Downey Jr., Daniel Brühl, Jeremy Renner, Emma Thompson and Michelle Monaghan because I like all of those people and wanted to fill in the gaps of their filmographies I’d yet to see.

My most watched directors of the year also show how I rewatched the Harry Potter series and that I rewatched a lot of the MCU in 2018. While I watched over 70 films directed by women, very few of them were by the same director, or if they were, I watched two films by them so they didn’t make this list. For instance, the two films I watched that were directed by Ryan Fleck, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Mississippi Grind, were also directed by Anna Boden but she didn’t manage to fit on the list.

Now for my film-related goals of 2019. While I’m very proud of the fact I watched 365 films last year, I don’t want to put pressure on myself to watch that many again or even more than that. I think I’m going to be more laid back with my film watching this year. I still want to see new films, but I also want to watch some of the many TV shows I missed last year and not feel bad that I’m watching a show instead of spending the same amount of time watching 5 films.

I want to complete the 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and screenwriters again. I love how that challenge can push me out of my comfort zone and make me really think about what I’m watching. Plus now that I have, and properly use, Netflix and Amazon Prime it’s so much easier to find films that are made by women.

I didn’t buy many new DVD’s/Blu-Ray’s last year, or if I did I watched them almost straightaway, so I have almost 70 unwatched films on my shelves and in boxsets so if I could get that down by half that’d be nice. Maybe 2019 will be the year I finish my Clint Eastwood boxset?!

Do you have any film-related goals for 2019?

Bout of Books 24 TBR

Bout of Books is a readathon that’s been happening a couple of times a year, for multiple years now. It’s a readathon I’ve always wanted to take part in but I’ve either not realised when the readathon is happening, so I miss it, or life just gets in the way of reading.

The next Bout of Books readathon starts tomorrow, Monday 7 January, at 12:01am and finishes at 11:59pm on Sunday 13 January and this time I am prepared! Tomorrow is my first day back at work after the Christmas break but otherwise my week is going to be very normal, so I should have plenty of time for reading.

The thing I like about Bout of Books is there are no challenges or targets, instead the aim is to read more than you usually would in a week. Depending on the books I’m reading and life, I can read two books a week, so it’d be great if I could kickstart my reading in 2019 with three books read this week.

I’ve borrowed the audiobook of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante from my library and I plan to start that on my walk to work tomorrow morning. That’ll probably take me longer than a week to read so I have some physical books on my Bout of Books TBR too.

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven
Augustown by Kei Miller
Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda, translated by Adriana Hunter
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come to realise that when it comes to readathons I get more books read if they’re YA (and often YA contemporary) or short, so I have a mix of both on my TBR.

Augustown is just over 200 pages while Under the Tripoli Sky is barely 100 pages. Both of these books would be for my Read the World Project, Jamaica and Libya respectively. I’m loving the recent boom in YA books about girls standing up for themselves against sexism so The Exact Opposite of Okay looks like just my sort of thing. I read We Were Liars by E. Lockhart a few years ago and sped through it so hopefully Genuine Fraud will be the same.

There’s my TBR for the Bout of Books readathon, though I don’t think I’ll read all the books mentioned, if I finish three of them I’ll be really happy. Are you taking part in this round of the readathon? Or have you taken part in Bout of Books before? Do you have any readathon tips? I know I’m always far too optimistic and often end up winging it!

My Top Ten Films of 2018

A bit later than normal, because life, but here’s my favourite films of the past year. I contributed to both the HeyUGuys Online Critics Top Ten and Jumpcut’s Top 10 Films of 2018 this year as well so check out what took the top spot on both of those lists.

This Top Ten is based on UK releases in 2018. I reviewed most of these films so will link to my review if you fancy learning more about why I thought it was so good. I’ve put these films in a rough top ten but really the film that takes the number one spot is the one that is my all-out favourite and even though I’ve watched it five times in 2018, I still adore it.

10. Dumplin’
This film was so sweet, funny and lovely. It was released in early December on Netflix and I watched it twice in about ten days. Dumplin’ made me laugh and cry and I can see it becoming a go to comfort film for me.

9. Game Night
I definitely need to rewatch Game Night to see if I laugh as much as I did when I saw it in the cinema. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but I ended up having such a good time with it, and “Oh no he died!” is still my favourite line delivery in any film I saw last year.

8. The Hate U Give
I loved the book so was eagerly anticipating the film adaptation of The Hate U Give and it didn’t disappoint. Amandla Stenberg was fantastic, and I think the story was translated to the screen so well.

7. Widows
I love a heist film and Widows was brilliant. It’s a slow-build kind of film but all the characters are compelling and the performances in Widows should be getting more awards buzz than they are currently.

6. Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians was one of those surprising occasions where I liked the film way more than the book. It’s funny, big, bold and it also made me cry at the end.

5. Black Panther
Ever since I watched the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon I’ve loved T’Challa so I was super excited about his standalone film in the MCU. I loved the world of Wakanda, the characters and the story, I haven’t done an MCU ranking recently but I think Black Panther would be in my top 5.

4. Mission: Impossible – Fallout
Well this was a non-stop thrill ride! Ghost Protocol is still my favourite Mission: Impossible film because that’s the team I like the most, but Fallout is definitely my second favourite and I really do think that Tom Cruise is super-human.

3. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
I grew up loving ABBA thanks to my mum and I think Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is just as good as the first film. I think how they combined a prequel and a sequel was great, I laughed, I tapped my feet, and I cried at the end.

2. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
I really want to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse again before it leaves the cinema because it deserves to be seen on the big screen. I loved the story, all the spider-people worked so well, I loved Miles, and the animation was stunning.

1. Avengers: Infinity War
I love Infinity War so so much. I think not only is it a great film, where I like all the characters and the different stores going on, but it’s an achievement really that ten years of build-up and stories works.

Those were my favourite films of 2018. What were your favourite films of last year? Do we have any in common.

READ THE WORLD – Syria: Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph by Yusra Mardini

At just seventeen, Yusra Mardini and her older sister Sara, decide to flee their native Syria when the fighting gets too dangerous. Together they make the perilous journey to the Turkish coast and board a small inflatable dinghy bound for Lesbos. Twenty passengers are forced onto the tiny craft and soon the engine dies and the boat begins to sink. Yusra, Sara and two others jump into the sea to lighten the load and help navigate the water for an exhausting three and a half hours until they reach the shore, they save the lives of everyone on board. Butterfly follows Yusra’s life from a happy childhood, to growing up in a war-torn suburb of Damascus, through Europe to Berlin and on to Rio de Janeiro where she competes as a part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Yusra, her sister, and the other people they met as they travelled to Europe are all so incredibly strong and brave. Yusra and Sara have to leave Syria without their mother and younger sister. While they face dangers as they deal with the sea, smugglers, and the police across Europe, there’s still the constant worry about their family who are still in a city where there’s almost constant shelling and gunfire.

It’s tough to read about Yusra’s life in Damascus after the conflict starts. It’s sad that she becomes desensitised to the sound of gunfire or explosions so quickly when she’s a young teenager. She and her family have so many near misses when it comes to dangerous situations. For instance, Yusra is training in the swimming pool when a bomb falls through the ceiling, lands in the pool, and doesn’t explode. There’s a mad rush to get as far away from the place as possible and that incident puts a stop to Yusra’s training and dreams of the Olympics for a while.

Yusra’s story does well to capture how there’s good and bad people everywhere. How someone might call the police on a group of refugees because the constant media cycle about terrorists makes them paranoid, but then others might volunteer to help people find clothes, food, and somewhere to stay in a country that’s far from home.

Butterfly does so much in disproving the narrative that some portions of the media like to present about refugees. None of them want to leave their home. Before the fighting starts, Yusra and Sara are like any other teenage girls, they go to school, they swim, their have friends and go shopping. Because we, by which I mean Western audiences, often only hear about countries in Syria when there’s conflict, and see images of bombed out cities, and people living in tents with no electricity, it’s easy to take that as face value and presume that’s what life has always been like for those people when in fact it’s the complete opposite.

Yusra’s internal battle with the word “refugee” was fascinating and explained really well. It’s so easy for her to see it as an insult or a sign she’s a charity case, for instance she struggles to decide if she wants to be a part of the Refugee Olympic Team because she feels she should get there the same way as any other competitor. As time passes though, thanks to the people she meets and what she learns about herself, she decides that it’s just a word and it doesn’t make her any lesser than anyone else.

Butterfly is well-written and engaging. I found it easy to care about Yusra, her family and new-found friends. Yusra is an inspiring young woman, but she makes it clear that while she’s learning to use her fame and voice to bring attention to the thing’s refugees go through and how they are still people with hopes and dreams, she is still the same person who loves to swim and wants to compete for her country in the Olympics. 4/5.