Author: elenasquareeyes

REVIEW: Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021)

Bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is trying to put his life together when Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek) arrives guns blazing, saying her husband hitman Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) has been kidnapped by the Mafia and she needs Michael’s help to get him back. Naturally, chaos ensues.

I very much enjoyed The Hitman’s Bodyguard so I was looking forward to the sequel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor. They’re both loud and brash and stupid but the sequel just isn’t as funny (maybe it was the unexpectedness of the first one that worked more) and it mistakes over use of vulgarity for humour and that gets old quickly.

Let’s talk about the trio of leads. Ryan Reynolds’ Michael Bryce is that quintessential Ryan Reynolds character and boy does he get beat up in this movie. While it is an action comedy and violence/injury is often used for laughs, it gets to a point where this man should not be able to stand let alone run, fight and shoot bad guys. Samuel L. Jackson’s Kincaid is the act-first-think-later kind of guy and while he is impulsive and violent it turns out, he’s nothing compared to his wife. Salma Hayek gets a lot more to do as unhinged con artist Sonia. Practically every other word out of Sonia’s mouth is an insult or a swear word and while how she clashes with Michael is amusing to begin with, it soon becomes repetitive and almost grating. She is far more of a loose cannon than her husband though and the dynamic between them and Michael is one of the things going for this film.

Antonio Banderas plays the big bad villain and the gaudy costumes and makeup he has makes him appear like a knock-off Bond villain. That’s not entirely an insult as he makes it work for the most part and it suits the unrealistic nature of Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard. Frank Grillo is also in this and as someone who likes Frank Grillo it’s always nice to see him pop up in films but his character is pretty nothingy and anyone could’ve been in that role and it wouldn’t have changed anything.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard just doesn’t know when to let moments rest. While it is an action/comedy there are a few dramatic moments that could’ve been affecting if they’d left the comedy alone for a moment to let the scene and actor’s performances breathe. Also, the editing in the vast majority of the action sequences is incredibly quick and it can be hard to follow what’s going on, especially in car chase sequences.

Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard has mindless action and violence and the comedy just doesn’t land – I think I smiled a couple of times and maybe chuckled once. A lot of the attempts at humour is derived from the same things, Ryan Reynold’s being long-suffering, Salma Hayek being crude and unpredictable, and Samuel L. Jackson being violent, it gets predictable and boring fairly quickly. 2/5.

Possibly a lot of the same criticisms can be levelled at the first film, but for some reason that one worked for me, and even held up upon rewatch. If anything, I think that I’d like Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard even less a second time around.

READ THE WORLD – Belarus: The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II by Svetlana Alexievich

Translated by Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. Narrated by Yelena Shmulenson and Julia Emelin.

Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of women to get their first-hand accounts of their experiences in the Second World War. What made them want to fight and what they did – whether that was on the front lines, on the home front or in occupied territories.

Being born and raised in the UK, when it came to learning about the First and Second World War, what British soldiers went through and how the wars affected the British people was the main focus. I did learn about the Allies and how Russia played a big part in the success of both conflicts but never really knew anything about the people on the front lines there.

While most of what I learnt about British Women during WWII was that they worked on the farms or in factories, or maybe became nurses or radio operators in Europe but there was definitely more of a focus on what British women did on British soil.

The women from the Soviet Union, whether they were Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Russian, or whoever were on the front lines. There’s accounts from women in the typical roles like nurses, surgeons and radio operators but then there’s women who were snipers, pilots, anti-aircraft gunners, soldiers. They all had different ranks from privates to lieutenants and many of them were awarded medals and honours for their service. And the majority of these women joined up when they were teenagers, some as young as fourteen but most were between the ages of sixteen to twenty-one during the war. It’s hard to comprehend what these women saw and experienced and how it shaped their lives.

The Unwomanly Face of War is a hard book to get through as it really is often harrowing. These women tell their stories so matter-of-factly even when it concerns dead bodies and men trapped inside a burning tanks. I think listening to it on audio helped as it was easier to take a breather and pull myself out of that dark headspace.

While naturally these women’s accounts were the main focus, I did like how Alexievich inserted a little backstory every now and then as to how she found these women to interview or what the experience was like listening to them talk. I especially found it interesting how she noted that the way these women talked about their experience differed when there was a man in the room. If their husband was there, it was like they didn’t feel as free to talk about things – even if he also fought and had seen and done similar things. I think it’s because these stories are often about how the woman felt in these situations, and some of the things talked about were mundane like how there was no lady’s underwear or boots in the army to begin with and the problems that came with that.

Another thing that’s talked about is love, whether these women found love before, during or after the war and how the war affected them and their relationships. The fact that after the war some men refused to date or marry a young woman who had been at the front, who had fought for her country, because it was seen as unseemly or unladylike was infuriating. Especially as often during the war it seemed like male soldiers treated their female counterparts with respect.

I learnt a lot from The Unwomanly Face of War. I was almost constantly in awe of these women, how they were just teenagers or young women at the time and the things they fought through, is so impressive. I liked how the accounts sometimes contradicted each other, in the sense that it’s clear that while all these women experienced the war, they didn’t experience it or feel about the enemy the same way. Some pitied the fascist soldiers they had to treat while others despised them. It showed how complicated human emotions are and how sometimes in wartime not everything is easy to compartmentalise.

While The Unwomanly Face of War is a tough read, I think it’s an important one. I learnt so much and the fact that it’s an unflinching look at what so many women went through and of the war as a whole makes it more impactful. 5/5.

A to Z Blogging Challenge 2021 Masterpost

Another A-Z Challenge completed! This year was all about my favourite characters and I had great fun sharing how much I love characters from different shoes, books and films.

Sign Up Post
A – Alec Lightwood
B – Kate Bishop
C – Clare Devlin
D – Poe Dameron
E – Elizabeth Sloane
F – Jessica Fletcher
G – Garrett McNeil
H – Holland March
I – Isabelle “Izzy” Lightwood
J – Johnny Lawrence
K – Kaz Brekker
L – Leïto
M – Mark Watney
N – Nancy Wheeler
O – Sally Owens
P – John Proudstar
Q – Q
R – Rose Tyler
S – Sara Howard
T – Terri Coverley
U – Uma
V – Elena de la Vega
W – Will Scarlett
X – Xtras (Steve Harrington, Jaylah, Jesper Fahey, and Elizabeth Swann)
Y – Yzma
Z – Zorro
Reflections Post

REVIEW: Army of the Dead (2021)

Mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) is approached by businessman Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada) to put together a team to go into Las Vegas to steal $200 million from a safe beneath the Strip. The only problem is Las Vegas is walled off from the rest of the world and is overrun by zombies – some of which appear to be a lot smarter and faster than you’d think.

At almost two and a half hours long, Army of the Dead is a film where you feel that run time. There are entertaining sequences but there’s more lulls than not and there are certainly portions of the film which drag. The fact that this crew of people don’t get into Las Vegas into almost an hour into the film is telling. There’s a fair few characters to recruit but it takes so long and never uses any of the typical narrative choices from the heist genre to do so so it’s interesting. Not to compare a zombie heist film to Ocean’s Eleven but that film shows how you can quickly get what the key skills an personality quirks of characters in quick succession and how they’ll fit in the team. And to be honest, while Army of the Dead is pitched as a zombie heist movie and though there are certainly a lot of zombies, the heisting is actually quite minimal. There’s really only Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer) who’s the safe cracker, everyone else is former military or gang members who can handle themselves in a shootout. Though an argument can be made for Peters the helicopter pilot (Tig Notaro) having the getaway driver role.

Naturally being a zombie film and having about a dozen characters in this band of thieves, there’s going to be some casualties and potentially a lot of death but there was far more than I was expecting leading to a very bleak viewing experience. Plus, so many of the characters get little to no development and many don’t seem to have strong ties to one another that the vast majority of deaths have no impact. Dieter and Peters had key roles to play in the plan, so the threat of their death means something but with everyone else it just let like they were there to be zombie fodder.

What I presume is supposed to be the emotional core of this film is the relationship between Scott and his daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), a volunteer at the camps outside Las Vegas who joins her father and his team on their mission though she has her own reasons for going. I say presume as it really didn’t do anything for me. Bautista and Purnell are both fine in their roles but it’s the dialogue and story that surrounds them that doesn’t work. It was also very difficult to care about Kate when her actions were often infuriating. Personally, I was more interested in the dynamic between Dieter and Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), one of the former-military guys, as small interactions between them actually built the foundations of a relationship, something that none of the other characters had. More often than not you were told why these characters liked or cared about one another than were shown it.

One thing Army of the Dead has going for it are the zombies themselves. These creatures are fast and intelligent and there’s interesting power dynamics in play with them. Plus, the way these zombies move and the sounds they make is very unsettling. There’s a sequence with a room full of hibernating zombies that is very suspenseful, though character decisions after it are very annoying.

I’ve realised that there’s more negative here than positive but that’s what’s sticking out to me about Army of the Dead. There are fun moments like Dave Bautista jumping from car table to card table while money rains down, guns fire and zombies attack, but those are few and far between. It’s hard to care about the characters when they make so many bad decisions and seem to be bad at the jobs e.g. former-military people not doing basic things like watching each other’s backs so they don’t get bitten by zombies. The heist element is minimal and while the zombie element is good, it’s hard to care about it when the story is pretty dull. 2/5.

Honestly I think I’ve given Army of the Dead two stars instead of one because of how well Tig Notaro was added into the film (she shot all her scenes on greenscreen as she replaced an actor who was fired during post-production) and because her character was fun and weird. Something the rest of the film was lacking.

REVIEW: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

After an accident on a space mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) begins to develop powers beyond her control. Her fellow X-Men fight to help her while other forces seek to either destroy or control her.

Oh boy is X-Men: Dark Phoenix a mess. It looks and feels like everyone involved didn’t really care much anymore. For all we know that may have been the case as Disney had bought Fox during the films production or post-production, so it was pretty much presumed that this was likely to be the last X-men film with these characters and actors. The special effects aren’t great, and the makeup and prosthetics are even worse. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a horrible shade of blue and looks far worse than she did in the previous three films Lawrence played the character in.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix was written and directed by Simon Kinberg who is better known as a writer and producer. In fact, Dark Phoenix was his directorial debut and it wasn’t particularly well directed to be honest. In action sequences they are either incredibly static and not interesting or they’re more chaotic and you have little idea of the space these characters are fighting in relation to one another.

The characterisation of some of the characters in this film is awful, if they are even given much to do. Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are often side-lined, while Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) loses his dorky innocence and becomes a coldblooded killer, not dissimilar to the mind-controlled version in X2 and it’s incredibly jarring. The biggest character assassination is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). He is the absolute worst in this film. He’s self-absorbed and almost power-hungry before things go wrong and when you learn of his involvement in Jean’s trauma it makes him look even worse. While Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is hardly doing anything new – trying to live the quiet life but then gets pulled into a conflict – as least Fassbender actually gives a good performance which is more than a lot of his co-workers did.

I’m a big fan of the found family trope (there’s a reason why the Fast and Furious films are some of my favourites) and even how they shoehorned that idea into the climax of this film couldn’t save it for me. Speaking of the climax, it happens on a train and is one of the most visually uninteresting sequences ever.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a sour note to potentially end this X-Men franchise on. The dialogue is bad with some really cringey lines, the plot is barely there and there are so many factions going after Jean that while I believe it to be comic book accurate, the addition of Jessica Chastain’s undeveloped character and compatriots feels unnecessary and there’s enough going on that it might’ve been a better film without them. I’d prefer to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine than this. 1/5.

READ THE WORLD – Laos: Mother’s Beloved: Stories from Laos by Outhine Bounyavong

Translated by Bounheng Inversin, Roger Rumpf, Jaqui Chagon, Thipason Phimviengkham, and William Galloway.

A collection of short stories about the ordinary people of Laos.

These stories were super short, often no more than five pages long, but they often managed to say a lot. I was frequently surprised by how often the last paragraph or even the last sentence of a story suddenly reframed everything that had come before it, twisting the narrative slightly so you see things from a different point of view. The stories are quite simply written but that just adds to their impact and makes them incredibly readable. This is a collection I read in one sitting and I think that’s because of the length and the writing style.

The stories are often about very mundane things and people, their hopes and dreams, their mistakes and good fortunes. It made how the viewpoint on the characters or the story twist so much more interesting. I really liked how this collection was bookended by stories about mothers. It made the title of the collection work and it gave the collection a sense of completeness that I haven’t always gotten from short story collections.

Some of the stories were sad, talking about the fallout of from war and how the threat of environmental degradation affects people, both individually and collectively, in different ways. It’s an interesting collection and I really appreciated the introduction from Peter Koret as it gave a brief overview of Laos history and how different factors has affected its literature over the decades. To be honest, I don’t often read introductions in books (I’m usually too keen to get to the actual story) so I’m not sure what made me start reading this one, but I’m pleased I did as a lot of it added context to the short stories and made me grasp cultural references I would have otherwise missed. Note to self: read introductions more often.

Something I really appreciated about Mother’s Beloved was the decision to have the stories in the original Lao side by side with the English translation. I’ve seen it before in translated poetry collections like The End of the Dark Era and Looking for Trouble, but I’d not seen this in a short story collection before. Lao is a completely different looking language and alphabet to what I know so I have no hope of reading it but I liked how in the introduction the decision to include both the original text and the translation was because it could mean the stories could be shared with multiple generations of people, no matter if they only knew English or Lao.

REVIEW: Deadpool 2 (2018)

My original Deadpool 2 review from when it was first released.

Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) puts together a superhero team to protect mutant kid Russell (Julian Dennison) from time travelling cyborg Cable (Josh Brolin) who is out for vengeance.

Considering how the first Deadpool film really didn’t work for me on rewatch, I was a bit apprehensive going into the sequel, but I was pleased to find that Deadpool 2 actually held up! Think this was mainly down to the new characters who were mostly played straight to Deadpool’s off the wall comedy and references. There are still a lot of references (some of the X-Men ones are especially good), crude humour and jokes but more consistently land this time. Plus it does help that they try and give Wade some more serious and emotional development for Reynolds to sink his teeth into, so Deadpool isn’t just a joke machine.

Director David Leitch (of John Wick fame) really ups the game with the action in Deadpool 2. It’s clear from his stunt background that Leitch knows how to film fights that are innovative and well shot, as well as how to show character through their fighting styles. It’s like everyone involved with Deadpool 2 just fully embraces the silliness of the film and its characters, which makes both fights and character beats just work so much better.

Most of Deadpool’s superhero team aren’t around long to make much of an impression but the sequence they are in is so unexpected and hilarious that it’s not really a shame they’re not in it much. Domino (Zazie Beetz) is the one member of Deadpool’s team that sticks around and she’s fantastic. Her superpower is being lucky and how that’s show on screen is very cinematic (no matter what Deadpool might say) and it’s just fun!

Josh Brolin as Cable is pretty brilliant too. The prosthetics and special effects work on his cyborg body and how that’s integrated with his human one looks impressive anyway and with that and the costuming, Cable is an intimidating presence. He’s almost unstoppable and how he and Deadpool work against one another (before naturally finding some common ground) is a great dynamic, with one being stoic and the other never shutting up.

That’s not to say Deadpool 2 doesn’t have its flaws. Julian Dennison’s performance as Russell doesn’t always work, it’s hard to take his anger seriously at times and equally the quieter, emotional moments don’t always land either. Then there’s the treatment of Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), the love of Wade’s life, it feels cheap and so cliché and while Wade often comments on narrative stereotypes, this one is treated so seriously. It’s there to just add emotional weight to Wade’s character and it’s a disservice to Vanessa as her own character.

Deadpool 2 is funny, action-packed and just good fun. The new characters work well with ones we’ve previously met – Karan Soni’s psycho killer Dopinder is an unexpected highlight – and while the first Deadpool movie worked for having a simple plot, Deadpool 2 flourishes for having more action, more characters and more emotional moments – though some don’t always hit the mark, at least the attempt was made. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Kazakhstan: The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov

Translated by Jan Butler and edited by Anthony Gardner.

The story of Mukhamet Shayakhmetov from childhood to his early twenties as he grows up under Stalin’s rule and how the collectivisation of agriculture forever changed his peoples’ nomadic lifestyle and caused a famine that killed over a million Kazakhs.

The Silent Steppe is the kind of historical memoir that’s written in a way that’s pretty easy to read and easy to get engrossed in. It’s not necessarily a literary masterpiece but it manages to capture so many emotions so well and it’s a really interesting insight into a time and a culture I knew nothing about. The Silent Steppe is split into three parts: “Class Enemy” which focuses on what the nomadic life was like, how it was forced to change, and how Shayakhmetov’s father was branded a “kulak” (a well-off peasant and therefore an enemy of the people) and imprisoned, “Famine” which covers the 1932-34 famine, the build up to the disaster and how eventually things started getting a bit better, and “War” when Shayakhmetov was a young man and joined the Red Army to fight in World War Two.

Shayakhmetov was born in 1922 and for his first seven years or so his life was normal, helping his father to look after the animals, travelling hundreds of miles with the rest of the family and the village as the seasons turned. Obviously a life not without hardships but positively idyllic compared to what followed.

What The Silent Steppe does well is not shy away from the horrors of what Shayakhmetov experienced. From the age of eight he was having to travel for dozens or even hundreds miles on his own in search of news of his father, or to learn about other family member. He had to do so much at such a young age as his mother either had to stay at home to look after his siblings or to find work so they could eat. The famine and its effects on him, his family and the people is described in vivid detail and it’s often unsettling. Shayakhmetov combines the personal with the factual almost seamlessly as he gives facts and figures on how the collective farms worked (or more often didn’t) and the cruelty and short-sightedness of government officials who repossessed people’s livestock, belongings and even their homes. It’s hard not to get angry when you read how livestock was taken from people and when the newly set up farms couldn’t deal with them, they slaughtered them and then the meat was just left to rot – not given to or even sold to the people. How Shayakhmetov and his mother managed to survive so much, like the fact they were homeless for so long and unable to settle anywhere due to being the family of a kulak, is a testament to their resilience but also a lot of luck and kindness from others. There’s so many other people mentioned, family and acquaintances, who didn’t survive the famine and a lot of the time who managed to survive and who didn’t was down to where people happened to be living and who or what they knew. Just pure chance.

One think that sticks out in Shayakhmetov’s story is how hospitable the nomadic Kazakh are. Their whole culture was forced to change under Stalin’s rule but so many people would still help him and his family when they could, and his family would always help others. They whole country and millions of people were forced to change and for the most part they kept their core values. Or at least, it took the combination of famine, war, and economic struggles for people to start to change.

The Silent Steppe is a really interesting book that covers a place and time I knew little about and shows how far-reaching Stalin and his policies were. How a whole nomadic culture was forced to change and never returned to what it was in such a relative short space of time is amazing – and not in a good way. The Silent Steppe is sad, informative but also a little hopeful as it really demonstrates the power of community – something the Stalin-regime tried to enforce in a structured way when it was already there.

REVIEW: The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020)

Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan) can’t help but hoard past mementos from failed relationships, but after her latest breakup with her first proper Grown Up boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar) her best friends convince her to start to try and let go of the past. In doing so, Lucy beings to curate an art space dedicated to past relationships with the reluctant help of wannabe hotel owner Nick (Dacre Montgomery).

The Broken Hearts Gallery doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of romcoms but what it does do his hit all the needed romcom beats very well and has a load of charm and a fantastic leading lady in Geraldine Viswanathan. Viswanathan is very funny, and she is the glue that holds this film together. She does a great job of showing the different sides to Lucy and make her sympathetic and believable. Plus, Viswanathan and Montgomery have great chemistry as their verbal sparring goes from friendly to flirty as they get closer.

The Broken Hearts Gallery works because it’s never cynical about romance or the type of genre film it is a part of. Yes, Lucy is a hopeless romantic and Nick is more closed off, but there’s something both satisfying and melancholy about the message of letting go to past relationships. That ability to be able to remember but also move on is important in the breakdown of any relationship, romantic or otherwise. Lucy curates this space in order for her to try and let go and it ends up snowballing into something so much bigger than she could imagine – because she’s not the only one who struggles with the what ifs and maybes.

Besides the romance aspect of The Broken Hearts Gallery, one of the key aspects of both Lucy and Nick’s lives are their friendships. Lucy lives with Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo), one whose been in a relationship for six years and the other that leaves behind a string of broken-hearted models. How they each think of love and commitment is different but then their friendship is so strong. They aren’t afraid to call each other out on their issues but they’re also very protective of one another and their dialogue, while full of quips and not particularly realistic, is often very funny. While it doesn’t get as much screen time as the girls’ relationship, Nick has Marcos (Arturo Castro), a friend/employee and his wife Randy (Megan Ferguson) and their relationship is often both funny and awkward.

The Broken Hearts Gallery is sweet, funny and heart-warming. It’s a film that’s made to put a big smile on your face and has relationships that are full of chemistry – platonic and romantic. It’s just a delightful film that makes you feel better if you’re feeling down. 4/5.

REVIEW: Logan (2017)

My original review of Logan from when it was released four years ago.

In the future where mutants are nearly extinct, an old and weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) leads a quiet life, trying to keep himself and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) out of harm’s way. When Laura (Dafne Keene), a young mutant who’s more like him than he first realises, comes to him for help Logan reluctantly tries to get her to safety.

Logan is a lot more real and grounded compared to the previous X-Men films. There’s no spandex and there’s fewer powers on show. This is a Logan and Charles who are both old and frail in different ways, who have seen are lot and are weary with the world – though Charles has more hope than Logan.

Putting aside the superpowered side effects of Charles’ illness, how he acts is very true to life in terms of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. He sometimes doesn’t remember Logan, he has mood swings, he doesn’t always remember what he’s previously said or done. It’s sad anyway but seeing Patrick Stewart play Charles Xavier, a man we’ve previously seen to always be in control of his mind and just about any situation not being able to manage the simplest of tasks just goes to show how long and hard a life these characters have had.

The action in Logan is brutal. Logan isn’t as strong as he once was, and he doesn’t heal as fast, but he can still stab and slash at bad guys when needed. Laura, on the other hand, has a tonne of energy and is vicious as she takes down the men who want to take her. There’s blood and screams and limbs are torn from bodies as well as a few decapitations too. It’s rough but it is well suited to the characters of Wolverine and X-23 and I think we’re lucky we’ve seen the full extent of what these characters can do when the film’s rating isn’t an issue.

Logan is an incredibly satisfying end to Wolverine’s story (or at least Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of him). There’s some humour and hope in amongst this dreary and hard world these characters now live and Jackman and Stewart’s performances and chemistry are both phenomenal and, at times, can bring you to tears.

Logan is a sombre, personal story about two weary men trying to save one girls life and for her to have a life better than there’s. Logan is the perfect swansong for the character and for Hugh Jackman who has made the role his own over all these years and films. It really is a drama with comic book elements rather than being a full-on typical superhero movie and it really works as that. 5/5.