REVIEW: Blackfish (2013)

blackfish-movie-posterDocumentary following the controversial captivity of orcas, aka killer whales, and the dangers it presents for humans and whales.

The focus of Blackfish is on Sea World and the whales there including Tilikum, a 12,000-pound orca that was involved with the death of three people including two experienced whale trainers. Interviews from former Sea World trainers paint a picture of how all orcas were treated and trained in Sea World and you also get to see their thoughts on the attacks and how they didn’t always know a lot about them when they were still involved with the whales. It’s clear that the former trainers cared about the whales but they were also deceived by their employers on how safe being so close to the whales were. Tilikum wasn’t the only whale involved in attacking and killing people, video footage shows other incidents in Sea World and in other parks across the world.

The film does a great job of showing actual footage of the trainers with the whales when everything’s normal and before or after an attack. It’s doesn’t go for the shock value that an animal attacking a human can bring, it’s very sensitive to those who have been injured or have lost their lives to an orca but remains critical of Sea World’s practices and the act of keeping whales in captivity in general.

Blackfish has a range of people interviewed, animal trainers, psychologists, marine biologists and lawyers from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Together they show the mental trauma these huge creatures go through when they are taken from their families and put into small enclosures. How capitalist organisations will risk human life if it means they can make a lot of money and will even go so far as to try and cover incidents up or place blame elsewhere.

Blackfish really makes you think. I know when I was eight years old and my family went to Disney World in Florida, we spent the day at Sea World and saw the shows where trainers are in the water with killer whales, dolphins and sea lions. It’s a big money business and the way it’s presented to you as the paying tourist, you don’t comprehend what the animals are going through. You see the animals doing their tricks and you don’t really think about where they sleep or how they’re trained.

Blackfish is an important yet disturbing and powerful documentary that will change the way you look at killer whales, and animals in captivity in general. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Cuba: Old Rosa by Reinaldo Arenas

old-rosa-cubaOld Rosa is one novel told in two short stories. The first is about Rosa, her life as a farmer, her marriage, and her children including her eldest son who runs of to join Castro’s rebels and her youngest son who she catches in bed with another boy. The second story finds her youngest son Arturo in one of Castro’s camps for homosexuals where he’s forced to do mind-numbing manual labour and his only escape is his imagination.

Rosa is a strong, proud and shrewd woman who works hard and expects everyone around her to do the same. She is very set in her ways and as her life goes on you see how that can be detrimental to her well-being. She doesn’t believe in what her eldest son Armando is doing by joining the rebels, she thinks it all nonsense and just focusses on her farm. She’s an interesting character as she’s not always likable but she is sympathetic as she’s often a victim of her own pride and prejudice.

Arturo writes and dreams to survive the labour camp. His mind is all over the place as he cuts down sugar cane and learns to live with the other prisoners. They all make a life for themselves, often being over the top and embracing the insults the guards throw at them. Arturo doesn’t want to be like the “queens” who wear short skirts made from palm fronds but he finds he’s a target if he tries to keep himself separate. His writing and imagination is what he clings to in the camp.

Old Rosa has a very different writing style to anything I’ve read before. Both stories have long, run on sentences with lots of commas and there’s no paragraph breaks or anything like that as well. It is the second story that really sticks out in the way it’s written, it’s 60 pages long and it’s one complete sentence. That might sound crazy but it’s true. The whole story is like Arturo’s chaotic train of thought, bouncing from one idea to another with no rest at all. This writing style made Old Rosa simultaneously quick to read as you get pulled along with the character’s thoughts, but if you needed to put the book down for whatever reason, it made it difficult to find an acceptable place to stop.

Old Rosa is a unique yet often unsettling story. Both Rosa and Arturo go through such pain and hardships and both of their imaginations are so vivid that as the reader you’re not always sure what’s real. The dreamlike state both characters find themselves in gives an unusual perspective on the Cuban Revolution and how things changed after Castro came into power.

London Bookshop Crawl 2017

Yesterday was the wonderful London Bookshop Crawl. Over 50 bookshops took part with discounts, freebies and goodies available and 1,000 people signed up through Eventbrite to take part.

Now I went to the first London Bookshop Crawl last year when there was a lot fewer of us, about 25-30 altogether, so we all stuck together in one big group. This year because of the amount of people it was a bit different. There were four groups of about 25-30 people that started off in Foyles and then went around London together, but the whole crawl was really a much wider affair where people could go off on their own or with friends and discover new bookshops together.

I was a part of group two which was led by the lovely Ruth and Michal. We started off in Foyles where I didn’t buy anything but I did give away 21 books and graphic novels to fellow bookshop crawlers. This worked out very well for me as it’s given me a lot more shelf space for new purchases.

We all walked to Gosh! Comics together where I did go a bit mad but it wasn’t so bad as there was a 10% discount on all books bought if you were a part of the Bookshop Crawl. There I bought Mockingbird Vol. 1, Saga Vol. 6, A-Force Vol. 0 and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. I’d been meaning to try Mockingbird for ages and I’m looking forward to it even more after the lady at the till said it was her favourite series.  (more…)

REVIEW: Hidden Figures (2016)

hidden-figures-posterThe true story of a team of African-American women mathematicians including Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) who played a vital part in NASA during the early years of the American space programme.

Each of the three leads are brilliant in their roles. They feel like friends who laugh together and support each other but they are also so incredibly smart. Their chemistry is palpable. Katherine is a human computer and can figure out maths that hasn’t even been invented yet, Dorothy is wise enough to get ahead of the game, learn things like IBM computing and make her and her colleagues invaluable to NASA, and Mary wants to be an engineer and while her boss, a Polish Jew, can see her potential, she fights when every door seems to be shut in her face.

The supporting cast is great too. Jim Parsons’ Paul Stafford is one of the mathematicians who doesn’t like Katherine is smarter than him and just about every other man in the room, Kirsten Dunst’s Vivian Mitchell is Dorothy’s boss and Kevin Costner’s Al Harrison is in charge of the division that works out how to put a man in space and bring him down again.

Hidden Figures isn’t a particularly surprising film as it has the same standard formula just about any true story film has – but that doesn’t diminish how brilliant it is. Hidden Figures knows exactly what it is and it doesn’t need huge twists because the history and these women’s lives are interesting enough.

On a purely aesthetic level Hidden Figures is a beautiful-looking movie. The costumes, hair and makeup are brilliant and the soundtrack is full of catchy songs from Pharrell Williams and Mary J. Blige. The score reunites Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer and they produce music that’s exciting and heartfelt and fits the time period and the film itself wonderfully.

Hidden Figures celebrates those who history, and society, tends to overlook and shows the power of perseverance and friendship. It is amazing to see a film with three African-American leads who are masters in their field. It’s an inspiring yet also frustrating when you see what these women had to put up with, yet they still wanted to be a part of something amazing and contributed to NASA’s success. Hidden Figures will leave you with a huge smile on your face but along the way you may shed some tears, both happy and sad, and it’s really a great, crowd-pleasing movie. 5/5.

TOP 5 WEDNESDAY: Favourite Non-Written Novels

Top 5 Wednesday is a great feature created by GingerReadsLainey and hosted by ThoughtsonTomes. To find out more about Top 5 Wednesday and the upcoming topics, check out its Goodreads page. This week it’s all about your favourite non-traditional written books, so graphic novels, comics, manga, audiobooks and so on and so forth. So, this week I’m writing about my favourite graphic novels/trade paper backs (because I don’t live near a comic store so it’s easier to read the volumes) and by pure chance they are all from different publishers. In no particular order they are…

march-book-oneMarch by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
This graphic novel trilogy was pretty much the first thing I read this year and it’s my new favourite thing ever. It’s all about the Civil Rights Movement in America and it’s told through John Lewis’s eyes, what protests he was involved in, who he knew and all the hardships and successes. It is such a powerful and important graphic novel series, the sort of thing everyone should read.

 

 

fiveghosts vol1Five Ghosts by Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham
Five Ghosts has a very Indiana Jones feel, especially as the main character is an archaeologist who searches for weird mystical artefacts. Oh, and he also happens to have a stone stuck in his chest that gives him the power of five different ghosts. The thing about Five Ghosts I really love is the art style, it’s like those old pulp fiction stories and it can be creepy and dynamic, especially when the ghosts make an appearance.

 

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REVIEW: Ride (2014)

ride-posterWhen Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) drops out of school and moves to California to live with his dad and to surf, his mother Jackie (Helen Hunt) follows him.

Ride is a delightful little film about family, finding your own path and letting go. Jackie is a workaholic but she is also very overprotective and caring towards her son. She definitely comes across as super clingy and her and Angelo’s relationship is a bit odd. They bicker like an old married couple rather than argue like parent and child. It’s a bit uncomfortable to start with but you soon get used to it and learn why they’re like that. That being said, their weird relationship does lead to a lot of funny moments.

When Jackie follows Angelo across the country she ends up employing Ramon (David Zayas) as her driver and he really doesn’t understand her for a lot of the film, and she meets Ian (Luke Wilson) who attempts to teach her to surf. The scenes with the three of them are often the funniest, especially anytime the trio runs into Angelo.

All the characters in Ride feel real, especially Jackie and Angelo. I feel the screenplay and the performances are what really stands out. You find yourself invested in this mother and son’s relationship, and anyone who has had a clingy parent (or has found themselves being one) will see themselves to some extent in this film.

Ride is a small film but it has a big heart. That’s mostly down to the performances from the cast, Hunt especially is incredible and the scenes she shares with Thwaites are always captivating – whether that’s because they’re funny or surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. 4/5.

REVIEW: Gods of Egypt (2016)

gods-of-egypt-posterMortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites) teams up with the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to try and defeat Set (Gerard Butler), the god of darkness who has taken Egypt’s throne, enslaved its people and plunged the empire into chaos and war.

Gods of Egypt is not a good film. There’s so much wrong with it, the dialogue is awkward and sometimes cheesy, the action scenes are terrible and while it might have a lot of big, shiny things, the CGI can’t really save the film.

Let’s talk about the dialogue. From the first scene with Bek and his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) their whole conversation is clunky and is a full-on info dump. From there it doesn’t get much better. There’s some quips when I think were supposed to be humours but not as funny as I found them – they were so cheesy and said at a really inappropriate time.

Then there’s the fight scenes. Some aren’t so bad, and the special effects on the Egyptian gods sometimes looks pretty cool, but then others are just awful. There’s the slow-mo pans around a character as he leaps towards someone, it honestly looks like the actor has been told to hold a couple of fighting poses and the camera, editing and VFX teams will do the rest.

I can’t not mention that a film set in Egypt, about Egyptian gods, has very few people of colour in it – especially black people. I feel like the scene where there’s a hundred Thoth’s (Chadwick Boseman) walking around is some sort of weird attempt to level the playing field.

All in all, Gods of Egypt is a dull and predictable film, though it does manage to sometimes looks pretty and sparkly. 1/5.