Author: elenasquareeyes

REVIEW: Someone Great (2019)

When Jenny (Gina Rodriguez) and Nate (LaKeith Stanfield) break up after nine years, a week before she’s set to move across the country for work, she’s determine to enjoy one last NYC adventure with her two best friends Erin (DeWanda Wise) and Blair (Brittany Snow).

Someone Great is like a love letter to the friendship between women. Jenny, Erin and Blair have been best friends for years and the way they interact feels like such a real relationship. They’re at different points in their lives both in terms of work, romance, and responsibilities but they all have fears about growing up and how they might not have reached their goals. Erin is a lesbian and scared of commitment and putting labels on her relationship with Leah (Rebecca Naomi Jones), Blair is in a relationship with a guy who annoys her and Jenny has just got her dream job that she’s worked so hard for but getting the job is the catalyst for the end of her relationship. But no matter what is going on in their lives, they are there for one another to listen, to make each other laugh, and to try and make things better.

Besides the wonderful relationship between the women, the honest portrayal of romantic relationships is great too. Sometimes you grow apart and don’t love the other person, but you don’t hate them either. Other times it can hurt as you still love them, but you know you’ve grown up into a different person to the one you were when you got together. Relationships evolve and they don’t always work forever, and it can be heart-breaking but there can also be someone there to help you through it.

The trio of female leads have great chemistry but the chemistry between Rodriguez and Stanfield really stands out. The way their relationship is told through flashbacks, as Jenny hears songs that reminds her of different times, is great as you can see the ups and downs but it’s bittersweet as you also see how young and happy they were.

Someone Great is funny, sweet and touching as it shows the realities of growing up and growing apart. The soundtrack is fab and every element of it is balanced so well; the humour, the drama, the characters, the relationships – it all comes together in a surprisingly heart-breaking yet heart-warming romantic comedy with a twist. 5/5.

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REVIEW: Furious 7 (2015)

My original review of Furious 7 is here.

Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) seeks to destroy Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their family in revenge for what happened to his brother in London. As he starts to pick them off one by one, Dom is approached by secret government agent Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) who wants them to rescue a kidnapped hacker and in return will help them find Shaw before he finds them.

Furious 7 takes the action and the fights up to a whole new level for this franchise. Everything that is shown in the trailer – cars flying out of airplanes, Brian running across the top of a bus that’s falling off of a cliff, a car jumping between two skyscrapers – it’s all just a taste of the over-the-top yet thrilling spectacle that this film has to offer. Everything in Furious 7 is bigger and bolder, from the international locations to the stunts, but it never loses what is at the heart of this franchise – these characters and the fact they are indeed a family.

There’s a lot happening in Furious 7 in terms of villains and plot threads. While Shaw is set up as the main antagonist to begin with, there’s also terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou) who is after the kidnapped hacker and their tech for the team to contend with. Luckily, the film speeds along and it has a good balance with these villains and the different obstacles Dom and his family have to face.

That is probably the best way to describe Furious 7; it knows what it is (almost ridiculous but always entertaining) and how to make all of its parts come together cohesively. There are the fights – the one between Shaw and Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is brilliant – the car chases, the jokes, and the emotional character dynamics. Furious 7 never lets its foot off the gas but at the same time, you never feel like you’re missing anything.

Furious 7 is action-packed and it has a lot of emotional weight to it. It is the most perfect and respectful send of to Paul Walker and it wraps up Brian’s story so well. In lesser hands the sequence with flashbacks of Brian in the various films across the years could’ve felt cheesy. But here, it fits with the tone perfectly and it ends up being a wonderful tribute to Paul Walker and his time in this franchise. Honestly, the ending of Furious 7 leaves me speechless (and in tears) because it is handled so well. 5/5.

REVIEW: This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop. She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of. Then her mom decides to sell the shop — to the McAllister’s the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for.

This Time Will Be Different has a lot more going on in it than the conflict about the family flower shop. There are discussions of racism, sexism (and how the two can intersect), teen pregnancy, unplanned pregnancy, and family, relationship and friendship drama too. All these elements make CJ, her friends and her family feel more three-dimensional as while they might be concerned with the McAllister’s racist family history and the fate of the business, it’s not the only thing that’s going on in their lives. There are the little things along with the big things, and the things that they didn’t want to confront until they suddenly come to ahead.

CJ is a very interesting and layered character. Sometimes I’d like her, sometimes I didn’t, because she was a messy person. She’s incredibly loyal but she can use that loyalty to cover up how she’s really feeling which can be petty and insecure. She’s not great at communicating and bottles a lot of her fears up until they all come pouring out in tears or cutting comments. CJ is someone who feels like she’s a failure, she doesn’t get great grades, she isn’t athletically or musically talented, and she doesn’t have the drive or goals that her mother has. It often appears that CJ is the kind of person that doesn’t try that hard, because then it doesn’t feel so bad when she fails, and she uses her failures as a protective shield against the rest of the world.

CJ’s relationship with her mum is often fraught as CJ worries that she’ll never do anything to make her mum proud, and that her mum regrets having her. The two of them have some great discussions and the writing is great as it shows how CJ can go with sympathising with her mum in one moment, to being angry with her the next, and back again. It’s true to life as when people have arguments or heated discussions, they feel a lot of different things at different times, especially if the other person says something they weren’t expecting. There’s almost the nature vs nurture idea going on in This Time Will Be Different. CJ was mostly raised by her Aunt Hannah due to her mum wanting to have a career, meaning CJ is similar in a lot of ways to Hannah. She still has some of her mum’s influences in her, but she is also her own person and it is as she becomes more comfortable with the idea of who she is and what she’s interested in, that who she is becomes more clear to her.

The frank discussions of what happened when hundreds of thousands Japanese Americans were sent to Internment Camps and how it still affects people generations later makes This Time Will Be Different a poignant read. When CJ starts to fight for her family’s heritage there’s a lot of talk of racist trolling, the white saviour, and how some people don’t see the big deal and are almost happy to let injustice slide if it doesn’t affect them. The Internment of Japanese Americans is something that happened not that long ago with people still alive who went through it, and their children and grandchildren perhaps still dealing with the emotional and financial consequences. With what’s going on in the world at the moment, it seems like now, more than ever, it is a part of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

This Time Will Be Different is a fast-paced book though it does end quite abruptly. Not everything is tied up neatly and leaves some questions which is fine, but there doesn’t seem to be any closure for CJ and how she feels about her successes and failures now. Also while the romance was sweet, there was a lot of mixed messages as CJ doesn’t believe in true love, meaning the romance is a very slow slow-burn romance.

This Time Will Be Different is a compelling read with a fantastically flawed and interesting main character. It’s funny, sad and shines a light on a piece of history that shouldn’t be forgotten about. 4/5.

N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon 2019

The N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube. The N.E.W.T.’s are the next exams/readathon after the O.W.L.’s which took place a few months ago.

The basic premise is that each Hogwarts subject has three prompts one to get an Acceptable in the subject, one to get Exceeded Expectations and one to get an Outstanding grade in that subject, and you have to read the books/prompts in order so read the Exceeded Expectations book after the Acceptable book etc. This readathon lasts the entirety of August so it gives you plenty of time to try and cram in as many N.E.W.T.’s as possible. For more information on the readathon see Gi’s announcement video. It’s clear she puts in a lot of work into this challenge, she makes study guides and a career guide that has information on lots of magical careers and the subjects you need to study in order to be able to progress in that career.

After taking part in the O.W.L.’s readathon in April and successfully reading all the books/completing all the exams I need to be a Ministry Worker in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, I now need to achieve Acceptable in five subjects – Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Muggle Studies, Potions and Transfiguration – and achieve Acceptable, Exceeded Expectations and Outstanding in History of Magic. That means if I want to be qualified for my dream magical career, I need to read eight books during the readathon. That’s doable for me. I think.

Charms: Acceptable – Read a book you think has a gorgeous cover
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
I adore this cover! I read this book’s prologue a couple of months ago on a plane and was intrigued but for some reason I didn’t continue reading it then – story of my life!

Defence Against the Dark Arts: Acceptable – Read a book that’s black under the dustjacket
This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab
I had to go through my various unread hardbacks to find one that’s black under the dustjacket. I remember starting This Savage Song when I first got it but the story didn’t really grab me so hopefully I’m more into it now.

Muggle Studies: Acceptable – Cover that includes a photo element
Where She Went by Gayle Foreman OR Night, Again edited by Linh Dinh
I read If I Stay way back in 2014 and downloaded the sequel onto my kindle straightaway but never read it. The film adaptation of If I Stay is currently available on Amazon Prime Video so I’ll probably watch that before August so I’m not going into Where She Went completely blind because I remember nothing from the first book. Night, Again is a collection of short stories from Vietnam so would be my one and only read for the Read the World Project during the N.E.W.T.’s.

Potions: Acceptable – Read a friend’s favourite book
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
This is one of my friend Nistasha’s favourite John Grisham books and she even sent me a copy! At over 500 pages it’s a bit of a chunky one for a readathon but with rumours that Tome Topple will be happening in August as well I should be able to get through it.

Transfiguration: Acceptable – Read a book with LGBTQIA+ representation
Golden Boy Abigail Tarttelin by OR Birthday by Meredith Russo
The main character in Golden Boy is intersex and this book has been on my shelves for years so this readathon might be the perfect time to read it. Birthday is a book I got recently in a subscription box and I don’t know what the LGBTQIA+ representation is in it; I just know it has that tag on Goodreads.

History of Magic: Acceptable – Read a fantasy
To Best the Boys by Mary Webber OR Ruined by Amy Tintera OR Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
It turns out I have a lot of unread fantasy on my shelves and all of these are from subscription boxes over the years. I’m not sure which one I’ll read as I have no strong feelings towards any of them at the minute, so I’ probably pick up whichever is shortest. If you have any suggestions let me know or I might just end up doing a Twitter poll to decide.

History of Magic: Exceeded Expectations – Read a book with a map in it
Flashfall by Jenny Moyer
After going through all the unread books I have that I thought might have a map in it, this is the only one that did!

History of Magic: Outstanding – Reread a favourite/read a classic
The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
I‘m currently rereading the His Dark Materials series via audiobook from my library so hopefully The Amber Spyglass will be available to borrow and read in August. The series was one of my childhood favourites and it’s been over 15 years since I read them. If the audiobook isn’t available, I’ll have to have a rethink as I don’t often reread books – even my favourites! There’s a lot of classics available to borrow on audio from my library though so I’m sure I’ll be able to get one of them if needed.

That’s my TBR for the N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon and my TBR for the month of August to be honest. I can read eight books in a month and this looks like it’ll be a good mixture of genres to keep me entertained. There are a couple of contemporary books which I always fly through and a lot of these are books that have been on my TBR for the longest time so it would give me an extra buzz if I did finally read them. I will keep track of my progress on Twitter and will probably do a thread like I did for my O.W.L.’s.

Are you taking part in the N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon? If you are, I hope the exams for your chosen career path isn’t too taxing and you have a successful month of reading.

REVIEW: Aladdin (2019)

When kind-hearted street urchin Aladdin (Mena Massoud) discovers a magic lamp, he befriends the Genie (Will Smith) inside and gets the chance to make a better life for himself and impress the Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). But the Sultan’s trusted yet power-hungry adviser Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) will do anything to get his hands on the lamp.

There seems to be a live-action remake of Disney’s classic animated features every few months and the trend doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon. While it’s hard to forget about the original animated Disney film when watching or reviewing the new version, I will try to keep the comparisons to the minimum and judge this version of Aladdin on its own merit. Really, with all the Disney remakes heading our way, I think that’s the best way consume these films.

Guy Ritchie is an unusual choice of director for a Disney musical when he’s best known for the Sherlock Holmes films and stylised action films. Some of the musical numbers lack energy with the camera moving a lot in amongst all the characters dancing, instead having a lot of wide shots. You can see exactly what’s happening, but it’s the songs rather than the action on screen that pulls you in.

That being said, when Jasmine gets to shine with new song “Speechless” the simple camera movements allow you to really feel the emotion behind Scott’s performance. Jasmine is a well-rounded character as even though her father has kept her sheltered in the palace for years, she’s keen to learn about her people and be a good ruler. She’s headstrong and confident and Scott is brilliant as Jasmine.

The whole cast are pretty great. Massoud is a charming Aladdin and has chemistry with both Scott and Smith making those trio of characters and their relationships feel so real. Will Smith is good as the Gennie and he’s very funny at times, but he never tries to imitate what Robin Williams did in the animation.

Aladdin is a lot of fun. The cast are charming, and the final act is thrilling. Aladdin is the best kind of remake, it follows the same plot beats, but adds some new moments and gives some characters more to do, making it its own thing. There’s magic and spectacle and fights and romance and, almost surprisingly, it all works. 4/5.

REVIEW: Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

When Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) needs help taking down a team of precision drivers led by criminal Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), he turns to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) and their team. Following the revelation that Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is still alive and working with Shaw, Dom and his family will do anything to get her back.

There are high-octane thrills in Fast & Furious 6 with car chases around London (though it never really uses the city to it’s full potential and nearly everything there takes place at night), a tank causing chaos on a motorway in Spain, and a sequence where the team take on a plane.

There are also some brutal fist fights too as Rodriguez’s Letty takes on Gina Carano’s Riley (Hobbs’ right-hand woman) on the London Underground. It is amusing how their brutal and efficient fight is juxtaposed with Roman (Tyrese Gibson) and Han’s (Sung Kang) unsuccessful fight against another one of Shaw’s team.

Though Letty is back she has amnesia so seeing her slowly reconnect with Dom and figure out who she is and where she fits in with this group of people who seems to know her is interesting. Rodriguez and Diesel still have a tonne of chemistry even if Letty isn’t the person Dom used to know. Also, credit to the writer as the Fast and Furious franchise really is getting better in its representation of and attitudes towards women. Elena (Elsa Pataky) and Dom had gotten together by the end of Fast Five and how she lets Dom go, and Letty’s reaction to her, is very mature on all sides.

There’s a whole subplot in Fast & Furious 6 that feels out of place. It involved Brian having to leave the team in order to investigate Shaw’s criminal connections and I achieves nothing in terms of furthering the plot. However, it is more of a character study as Brian attempts to atone for his part in Letty’s “demise” and her current situation.

As the series has grown and the team/family of heroes has expanded, it does mean that the villains don’t get much development. Evans tries his best to be a different kind of menacing to the ones Dom and his crew have encountered before, but it doesn’t really hold up bar one scene where he and Diesel have a standoff. Roman makes a comment that Shaw’s crew is like their evil twins but that’s all down to appearances rather than their skills or personalities as you never really get to know any of them.

Fast & Furious 6 is still fun and has bigger stunts than before, though it does have a somewhat convoluted plot. The emphasis is still on family though and on the whole the emotional beats land which is what you really want from this franchise. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Slovenia: Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti

Translated by Nada Grošelj.

A collection of singular and strange stories about characters struggling to maintain their identities as they cross physical and linguistic borders.

The themes of the stories in Mere Chances where very interesting as they cover belonging, identity, and the difficulties in making yourself heard in a new place. However, the actual plots of a lot of the stories aren’t as compelling as their themes. It’s like a lot of them are trying to be bigger and more important than they are, with surprises that don’t feel earned and characters that aren’t developed enough. Obviously, short stories don’t have the same space to give characters a full backstory but a good short story can give you a good characterisation to be interested in, even in just a few pages.

There are a few stories that are truly great and powerful. “Portugal” is about a young woman with a terminal illness who decides to make the trip she’s always wanted to before having to deal with the reality of her health. The escapism is great as she makes her way to her destination, talking to locals and letting her thoughts wander.

A couple of the stories are about the war in the Balkans and trying to find where the bodies in the mass graves belong to return them to their families. Those stories are like a shock to the system after the stories that are bland and unaffecting.

Mere Chances is a short story collection that has a lot of good ideas and themes but unfortunately the majority of the stories don’t have good enough characters and plot to make them more than interesting in theory.