Author: elenasquareeyes

The Christmas Carol Book Tag

We’re almost halfway through blogmas so thought it was time for a Christmassy book tag. The Christmas Carol Book Tag was created by Lauren Wade on YouTube and I saw it over on Jess’s blog, Jessticulates. I read A Christmas Carol when I was in school, but when I think of the story, it’s the film Muppet’s Christmas Carol that always comes to mind.

The Ghost of Christmas Past – A book that was a childhood favourite
Love Street by Andrew Matthews
I think this is one of the first YA books I read and it was one I reread over and over again. It’s about a teenage girl who makes up her own soap opera in her head to deal with the stresses of friendship and relationship drama.

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Present – A recent book that you think will become one of your all time favourites
The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven
I read this book at the start of the year and I still think about it. It’s funny and heartfelt and it deals with such tough topics it can be equally infuriating and inspiring.

 

 

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – A book coming out next year that you’re most excited about
The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
I’m so bad at keeping track of book releases but this in one I know about and will definitely be getting. I don’t particularly like the books title but I’m looking forward to going back into the world of The Hunger Games.

 

 

Bah, Humbug! – A book that everyone else loves that you just can’t stand
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I do get why people like this book and I did like the writing style but the story just didn’t grab me and I didn’t like the relationship and (albeit very small) hints at romance between the two main characters.

 

 

Bob Cratchit – An old dependable that you always recommend
Luther: The Calling by Neil Cross
This is the prequel book to the first series of the TV show Luther but I still think it’s the kind of book that both fans and non-fans of the TV show would enjoy because it’s such a creepy and tense thriller.

 

 

Tiny Tim – An underhyped book that you think deserves more love
Safe as Houses by Simone can der Vlugt
I read this thriller earlier this year and it gripped me from beginning to end and it definitely deserves to be talked about more.

Today? Why it’s Christmas Day! – What’s a book that always gets you in the mood for Christmas (apart from A Christmas Carol)?
I don’t really read a lot of Christmassy books to be honest, nor do I reread a lot of books, but I do like reading comics and graphic novels on the run up to Christmas because they’re shorter and my brain likes to get in that more chilled out mood as Christmas is a time for relaxing.

The Muppet Christmas Carol – Your favourite film adaptation of a book
The Martian by Andy Weir
Book to film adaptations often get a bad wrap but there are a lot of good ones out there. While an honourable mention has to go The Lord of the Rings, I’m picking The Martian. It’s one of my favourite books of recent years and the film got so much right, the humour, the characters and the heart of the story. Plus, The Martian is just an endlessly rewatchable film.

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors (2019 Edition)

Back in October 2017 I posted about which actors I’ve watched the most films from. Two years later, I thought it’d be fun to revisit that and see what might have changed. I get these stats from Letterboxd where I have a pro account. I love the stats Letterboxd can give you as it’s not just your yearly film-watching stats, but also there’s stats that take into account every film you’ve ever watched.

First thing I noticed that’s changed over the past two years is the amount of films I must’ve watched in general and it’s made getting a spot on my top 20 list quite competitive. In 2017 my most watched actor (Samuel L. Jackson) had 35 film to his name and the least watched actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rachel Weisz) each had 19 films to their name. That’s changed a lot in just over two years and now my most watched actor (still Samuel L. Jackson) has 43 films to his name, while my least watched actors (Rachel Weisz, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith) each have 24 to their name. I think this is partly down to how last year I watched 365 different films – don’t ask me how I did it, I’m not sure but I’m definitely not putting that kind of pressure on myself again – plus, you know two years going by means there’s a lot of time to watch films from a variety of actors.

I’m happy to see over the past couple of years that there’s more female actors making into my top twenty most watched actors list. Keira Knightley (whose films I’ve watched a lot of this year) and Maggie Smith have joined Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Also got two more black actors here with Idris Elba (who has actually made my most watched actors list two out of the past three years I’ve had Letterboxd and he’s comfortably going to be on it again this year) and Denzel Washington.

It would obviously be nice if more women and people of couple made my top twenty most watched actors of all time but baby steps. I know for a fact there’s some actors like Anna Kendrick, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Emma Thompson that are just missing out on a spot. Still, based on a quick scan of Letterboxd, at the moment it’s more likely that a white woman will get a spot on my most watched actors list than any other person. This is obviously down to my taste in films, and what films are available to me in the cinema or via Netflix of similar, but it reinforces the fact I still want to broaden my film watching horizons.

Though saying that, I do watch more films not in the English language and more independent films and more films made by women each year. I think the problem is that historically I didn’t have the statistics to look at (I got Letterboxd in 2016) so there was over 20 years of film watching where I watched what I wanted without any real thought about who was in it bar whether or not I liked the actors. And that’s fine because for most of those 20 years I was a child/teenager where I just watched what I liked and what was available without a care in the world.

I know making my film viewing more diverse will take time and that’s OK. I still watch what I want to watch, whether that’s because it’s got a certain actor in it I like, or the trailer looks good, or it’s a genre I like, without feeling pressured that I should be watching highbrow films that are from a certain niche area.

In short – watching diverse films with diverse talent is a good thing that I want to continue doing, but this revisit to these stats two years on shows me that making a big dent in this will take time. But I have my whole life to watch as many films as I like with many different people starring in them, so while I will probably continue to check in on these stats every couple of years to see how things stand, I won’t stress about it too much.

My final thought about looking at my top twenty most watched actors list today is; it does make me smile that in two years I’ve only watched one more Bruce Willis film since 2017 (I told you I wasn’t a fan of his) but he’s still got quite a comfortable spot there.

REVIEW: The Aftermath (2019)

Less than six months after the Second World War ends Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) travels to Hamburg, Germany to join her husband Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke) where he is assigned to help with the post-war reconstruction. But tensions arise with the Germans, Stephen Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård) and his daughter Freda (Flora Thiemann), whose house the Morgan’s have moved into.

The direct aftermath of WWII and those who “lost” isn’t something that’s often seen in period dramas. While the focus is on the British couple living and working in a city in a country where a lot of the people may hate you, the backdrop of a bombed-out Hamburg is unsettling. Rachael is unprepared for what she’s walked into and was unaware that the grand house she must live in comes with German staff and the original German owner who is forced to live in the attic with his daughter.

The score in The Aftermath is beautiful – a scene where “Claire de Lune” is played is a wonderful catharsis for some characters – and the cinematography and setting is too. The Aftermath is set during winter and all of the snow looks beautiful and almost magical on the grounds of the Morgan’s new home however when there’s scenes in the ruins of Hamburg the snow and cold is harsh and unrelenting as people trying to keep warm around fires.

Keira Knightley shines as Rachael and her chemistry with Skarsgård is palpable, but it is Jason Clarke’s Lewis that is the pleasant surprise. He doesn’t think he’s any better than the Germans, he wants them to be treated with respect and to help them as they have lost just as much, if not more so, than the British. However, he’s so focused on his work that he barely talks to his wife and when he does it isn’t about the meaningful things she wants to talk about; how they’ve been while they’ve been separated, how they feel about losing someone they love.

The Aftermath is a surprisingly layered take on grief, love and relationships. The fallout from secrets being revealed isn’t as bombastic as you might expect when there’s infidelity involved. Instead the central three characters have a surprisingly mature response and if there had been more of an emotional connection to the characters, it would’ve been even more affecting.

The Aftermath is a tasteful post-war drama about people learning to cope with and move on from tragedy. It’s a quieter period drama that won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it has some beautiful performances. 4/5.

REVIEW: Arthur Christmas (2011)

When a child is missed on Christmas Eve, Arthur (James McAvoy) the clumsy youngest son of Santa (Jim Broadbent), races against time to deliver her present with the help of elf Bryony (Ashley Jensen) and his grandfather (Bill Nighy), much to the dismay of his older brother Steve (Hugh Laurie) who runs a tight ship at Christmas and isn’t impressed with Arthur putting the whole operation at risk.

Arthur Christmas is a lot of fun and a great adventure. It pokes fun on how Christmas is so commercialised nowadays and it’s almost a military operation to get all the presents and organise everything when the shops are heaving with people. At the North Pole Santa is more of a figure head of Christmas, and instead it’s his son Steve, along with millions of elves, that run the show. The sequences of the elves dropping off presents in dozens of homes in seconds are entertaining and inventive and they contrast nicely with the picture of Santa and his helpers that we generally have. That kind of typical Christmas is what Grandsanta reminisces about, when he used a wooden sleigh and a dozen reindeer to deliver presents.

Arthur loves Christmas. He believes whole heartedly in what his father does, the magic of Christmas and that every child matters. He’s almost naïve in his enthusiastic optimism, especially next to Steve’s stoic pragmaticism, but it’s charming too as he wants everyone’s Christmas to be special.

The dialogue is hilarious, and the writing is so sharp that the family arguments feel real. While Mrs Santa (voiced by Imelda Staunton) doesn’t have as large a role, she’s a soothing presence over tense family dinners and a the most practical out of all her family members. There’s a lot of great sight gags too, many of them courtesy of the countless elves running around the place.

The animation is beautiful and impressive. From how the operations centre at the North Pole is shown off in all it’s glory with all the screens and high-tech gadgetry to then how Arthur, his family and the elves feel so warm and alive. The North Pole is all icy blues but the colourful Christmassy jumpers and clothes that Arthur and his family wears brighten up the place and makes it feel lived in.

Arthur Christmas isn’t just a funny film, it’s also one filled with heart and sentimentality without being too twee. It does such a good job at offering a new and imaginative take on how Santa could possibly deliver presents to every child around the world, while never losing the spirit of Christmas. Arthur Christmas is a proper old-fashioned family film that everyone, no matter their age or whether or not they believe in Santa, can enjoy. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Night Before (2015)

Every year for the past fourteen years best friends Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie) have gone out in New York City together on Christmas Eve. But now they’re getting older and are getting more responsibilities, this year the Christmas tradition is coming to an end and to end on a high they’re finally going to attend the Holy Grail of Christmas parties – the Nutcracka Ball.

The Night Before is very funny. It’s kind of a stoner comedy in the sense that the three friends spend a good chunk of time searching for weed but it is only Seth Rogen’s character that gets high on just about every type of drug imaginable. Cue silly antics as he starts panicking about being a father, loses his phone and is generally not able to function. There are some great cameos in The Night Before, some of them are truly unexpected yet brilliant, and the supporting cast is a lot of fun too with Mindy Kaling being a highlight. Then there’s Michael Shannon who plays Mr. Green the intense yet strangely wise drug dealer. His scenes are some of the funniest while also being oddly Christmassy as he often makes one of the trio of leads think about their lives and what’s important to them. He’s kind of like a stoned version of Clarence from It’s a Wonderful Life, and amazingly it works and adds to the Christmas feels that are there beneath the cursing and dick jokes.

In amongst all the drugs and swearing, the main theme of The Night Before is surprisingly sweet and heartfelt. Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Mackie all have great chemistry and they really feel like lifelong friends. They are each at different stages of their lives, Isaac is about to be a father, Chris is a famous football player, while Ethan is feeling a bit lost as he’s no longer with his girlfriend and his career isn’t going anywhere. At its heart this film is about the trio of best friends and how friendships evolve as people grow up but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be friends and grow up together.

The Night Before is funny and often silly and ridiculous, but with the three leads having such great chemistry and New York City feeling so Christmassy, it unexpectedly feels like a true Christmas movie in the sense anything can happen, and it’ll be in the spirit of Christmas. 4/5.

Thanksgiving Book Tag

OK. Thanksgiving was last week so I’m a little late with this tag but we’re just going to deal with that. This tag was created by Fangirlscity on YouTube and I saw it on Aoife’s blog, Pretty Purple Polka Dots.

1. Bread – What book is purely fluff, and has no real plot line?
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
I flew through this book and it was a cute, fluffy read with a lot of nice relationships but it was so character-focussed that it didn’t really have an overarching plot.

2. Turkey – What book made you want to fall asleep?
The Book of Ebenezer le Page by G.B. Edwards
I’m currently listening to the audiobook of this and it’s not bad but the narrator sounds like an old man as he’s telling his life story and it is very soothing and is just the sort of thing I could accidentally fall asleep when listening to it.

3. Gravy – What book makes the whole series worth reading?
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
I listened to the audiobooks of Chaos Walking series last year and really struggled with it. My main issue was Todd, it wasn’t until Monsters of Men that I actually started to like him and the therefore the half of the book that was from his perspective.

4. Stuffing – What book is stuffed full of action scenes?
Flashfall by Jenny Moyer
I read this as a part of my NEWTS in August and the action never really stopped, especially once it got past the halfway mark.

5. Mashed Potatoes – What book looked good, and then wasn’t?
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
A Blade So Black isn’t bad exactly, but it wasn’t like what I expected, and the ideas were better than the actual plot.

6. Cranberries – What book has the sweetest romance?
The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
I don’t read a lot of romance, but I found the romance in The Unexpected Everything to be really sweet and Andie and Clark really complimented each other.

7. Corn – What’s the corniest book you’ve ever read?
Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella
Sophie Kinsella’s books are always a little corny, fun, but corny, but I think Twenties Girl was even more corny than normal what with the main character being haunted by her great aunt or whoever it was.

8. Green beans – What book is too long and needs to be shortened?
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
This was such a fat book. It was over 700 pages and it really didn’t need to be that long. I read it while I was at uni and I’m pretty sure it took me over a month to get through it and I’m not sure I even knew what was going on half the time.

9. Pumpkin Pie – What book do you read to get out of a reading slump?
In general, I read graphic novels or comics to get me out of a reading slump. Naturally they’re short and while I’m not saying I concentrate on them less than a novel, with the images it does make things easier if my brain’s having difficulty getting through a lot of description in a novel.

10. Dog/Cat- What’s your favourite Thanksgiving food that you would steal from the table?
Not had a Thanksgiving dinner before but I could always eat a lot of mashed potatoes.

And that’s the Thanksgiving book tag! If anyone fancies being even later to the party than I am, then consider yourself tagged. Also I hope those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a wonderful day.

READ THE WORLD – Chile: In the Distance with You by Carla Guelfenbein

Translated by John Cullen.

Vera Sigall, now eighty years old, has lived a mysterious, ascetic life far from the limelight of literary circles. This powerful character has a profound effect on those around her – Daniel, an architect and her neighbour and friend, unhappy in his marriage and career; Emilia, a Franco-Chilean student who travels to Santiago to write a thesis on the elusive Vera; and Horacio, an acclaimed poet with whom Vera had a tumultuous, passionate affair in her youth. When Vera suffers an accident that puts her in an induced coma in hospital, Daniel, Emilia, and Horacio are brought together and as they tell their stories, they reconstruct Vera’s past, and search for their own identities.

I found the writing in In the Distance with You to be beautiful and almost lyrical at times. The whole story is like a love letter to an author and to their works and the people surrounding Vera really feel connected to her in different ways. In some ways In the Distance with You is a story about stories; the ones we tell ourselves, the ones we tell others, and the ones we may write and publish to great acclaim.

In the Distance with You is told from three different points of view – Daniel’s, Emilia’s and Horacio’s – with the chapters alternating between the three of them. Daniel is the one who discovers Vera after her accident and tries to figure out what caused it as she lies in hospital. He’s a character that grew on me over the course of the book, as he grew as a person. He starts off being quite self-absorbed and only really cares about what’s happening with Vera, pushing his wife aside in the process, but when he meets Emilia, he finds someone else that he cares about and starts to open up more. Emilia learns so much about Vera from her own works and studying the few bits of information there is about her past. It’s interesting to see how a novelist may put bits of them into a story and it’s through these breadcrumbs that Emilia starts to put together a picture of the kind of woman Vera is. Horacio keeps his distance after Vera’s accident and instead revisits the past; how the two of them met, fell in love and worked together on their writing.

The mystery at the heart of the novel is Vera and her life. She’s pretty much a recluse with Daniel being the only person who saw her regularly, and even he doesn’t know that much about her past. As the story progresses, the layers of Vera’s life are slowly pealed back by each of the three main characters, and it’s only through all three of their point of views do you get a full picture of who Vera is. It’s interesting having a book so focused on a character that spends the majority of the story in a comatose state. Daniel, Emilia and Horacio orbit Vera even when she’s unresponsive and her being in that state almost forces them to reconsider who they are and what they want from life and those around them.

In the Distance with You is beautifully written story with fully realised characters. They’re flawed and it’s fascinating to see how even though Daniel, Emilia, and Horacio are very different people, they are connected by a love of or fascination with one person. 4/5.