Author: elenasquareeyes

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Halloween freebie

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week is a Halloween freebie meaning you can do any Halloween-related top ten you like. I’ve decided to go for my top ten spooky-ish creatures in books. These can be creatures or animal companions that are evil, helpful, mysterious, mischievous, or combinations of all of the above.

Pocket – The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet
Pocket is sort of a gnome/elf like character and while they might say they’ll help you solve all your problems; they have a high price.

Salome – Cal Leandros series by Rob Thurman
Salome is a Mummified cat. Yes, you read that right. They don’t do a lot besides scratching furniture and people and generally being a pain – like a lot of alive cats can be – but I just really like the idea of an undead cat hanging out in an apartment.

Ren – Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
While I didn’t really like the Monstress comic much, I did like Ren. A cat with two tails that has lying and double-crossing down to an artform.

Solembum – Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
Solembum is a werecat so sometimes he looks like an average cat albeit with red eyes, and sometimes he looks like a young boy – even though he’s definitely older than a child.

Bassareus and Horatio – The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen
I’m currently reading this book and nimkilim are talking animals that once were messengers of the Gods but now deliver the post for humans and can appear as any type of animal, it just depends on where they live. In The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy the main nimkilims are a crass rabbit called Bassareus and a posh owl called Horatio.

Lying Cat – Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
Cats sure seem to be the go-to for unsettling but sometimes helpful creatures. I love how Lying Cat looks and it sure would be handy to have someone (or something) around that could tell when people were lying – though might be a bit uncomfortable at times.

Baba Yaga – Foxfire, Wolfskin and other Stories of Shapeshifting Women by Sharon Blackie
In Slavic folklore Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed and/or ferocious-looking woman. There are obviously many different interpretations of Baba Yaga in different works but the most recent version I read was in the short story “Meeting Baba Yaga” in Foxfire, Wolfskin and other Stories of Shapeshifting Women. I just loved the different spin on the character and the fact that the narrator didn’t seem to know/believe she was in the presence of Baba Yaga while the reader does, meaning there’s a sense of unease throughout all of their interactions.

Chunk – Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega
Chunk is mostly a normal tubby tabby but he’s also a witch’s familiar and when ghosts attack, he can become something far larger and more vicious.

Mogget – the Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix
Mogget is like the definitive unearthly animal companion to me. He may look like a white fluffy cat but there’s definitely more than meets the eye with him. I love how he knows so many things because he’s so old and how he’s cryptic with everything.

Disreputable Dog – Lirael by Garth Nix
So Disreputable Dog isn’t as potentially evil/disruptive as some of the others on this list. But she’s definitely not a normal dog, has certain powers and is secretive with them too. The Disreputable Dog definitely falls on the more helpful end of the scale compared to the rest of the characters.

What are some of your favourite spooky/unsettling creatures? Have you read any of these books before? It does amuse me that over half of these creatures are cats – or at least take on the appearance of cats.

REVIEW: Cherry (2022)

After discovering she’s almost 11 weeks pregnant, Cherry (Alexandria Threwhitt) has a big decision to make in just 24 hours, whether or not to keep this unplanned pregnancy.

Films about women’s access (or lack thereof) to essential healthcare like abortions and the morning after pill are becoming more common nowadays as women’s right to choose is still being debated – and in some places being outright denied. Personally, I’m a fan of this timely sub-genre, whether it’s a dramatic period piece or a teen road trip comedy as no matter what the central characters decide it’s a huge decision and the circumstances of their pregnancy can be so different.

Cherry is in her early twenties and has had a load of dead-end jobs, is still mostly living with her mother and has no real direction in her life. Her life is a bit of a mess and while some of this is down to her, it’s also obvious that everyone has their own things they’re going through and when people are absent it’s sometimes not because of maliciousness. Alexandria Threwhitt gives a great and compelling performance as Cherry. She bounces between her family, her friends who she sort of ditched and her not so serious boyfriend/the would-be baby’s father a she tries to figure out if motherhood right now is for her while finding it increasingly difficult to talk to the people in her life about what’s going on with her.

As Cherry tries to decide what to do, she talks to her parents about parenthood in a roundabout way, trying to get their advice and guidance without telling them why she’s suddenly so interested in about the circumstances of her own conception and birth. The scenes with her dad (Charlie S. Jensen) are especially good as it’s clear they both have different ideas of what it is to be a parent and support their family. Her father said he was a good father because he worked all the time so they could be secure but to Cherry that meant he was never around and their awkward relationship is testament to that.

I want to mention the doctor Cherry sees, played by Sandy Duarte, quickly. Perhaps it’s because some of the films I’ve watched recently that deal with this topic have had doctors that have been judgmental or unhelpful, but it was so refreshing to see this doctor – who herself was clearly very pregnant, be kind and non-judgemental towards Cherry. She gave her all the information she needed, talked her through all her options and refused to judge her no matter what decision she made but was still firm that Cherry needed to decide one way or another as there was no ignoring what was happening to her body.

Cherry is one of those wonderfully short (its runtime is less than 75 minutes) but poignant and funny indie dramas. It has a great soundtrack and the sunny streets of LA and Cherry’s shiny red roller-skates help give this film almost a sense of whimsy even though Cherry has big choices ahead of her. 4/5.

REVIEW: Werewolves Within (2021)

After a snowstorm traps a group of eccentric townspeople in the local, secluded inn, new ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) tries to keep everyone calm as he looks for the mysterious creature threatening the community

Werewolves Within is based on a videogame but it’s not a game I’ve played, or had even heard of before I heard about this film, so I can’t comment on how well it works as video game/movie adaptation though historically they’ve been kind of hit and miss (and mostly miss). Werewolves Within as film though, is definitely a hit.

Finn is the new guy to town and with postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) acting as his guide to the town and its people, he soon learns that everyone has their own quirks and there’s bubbling tension as developer Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall) wants to knock down homes and businesses to put down a gas pipeline and the town is divided between those who want to sell their homes to make it happen, and those who don’t. So naturally, when something appears to be stalking the town the people are quick to point fingers and tempers fray.

Werewolves Within is a horror/comedy but it mostly feels like a really fun whodunit! There are some scares, including some pretty funny ones, but it’s the mystery and the characters that made Werewolves Within really work for me. There’s a lot of interesting characters and the script is great as a lot of the time, things that are mentioned in passing at the beginning have an alternate meaning as the film progresses. It’s fun to try and figure things out alongside Finn as he’s the perfect person to take on this case as an outsider – however, being an outsider can also be to his detriment as these people have known each other for a lot longer.

Werewolves Within is just a lot of fun. It has a great script along with great performances – the whole cast are perfect for their roles but it’s Richardson who is a solid lead performance, grounding any and all of the absurdity that ensues – and with a 90-minute runtime, Werewolves Within is an entertaining horror/comedy/mystery hybrid. 4/5.

REVIEW: Jennifer’s Body (2009)

High school cheerleader Jennifer (Megan Fox) starts killing and eating her male classmates after she’s possessed by a hungry demon and her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) is the only one that can see something’s not right.

Jennifer’s Body is one of those films that seem to have gained cult status over the years and while it wasn’t particularly well received upon release, it’s now often used in feminist analysis and is deemed ahead of its time. For a film nearly 15 years old it hasn’t aged too badly and only has the odd inappropriate gay joke and the use of the word “retard” semi-frequently isn’t great.

Considering Needy and Jennifer’s friendship is at the core of this film, it never really feels truly fleshed out and believable. There’s the usual trope of the popular, pretty cheerleader having a best friend who is just pretty average and while there’s flashbacks to the two of them as little kids to try and show how and why they’ve been friends for so long it doesn’t feel like enough. You don’t get to see them as friends when they’re teens before everything goes weird for them both. Plus, the moments you do see, Jennifer is pushy and kind of mean towards Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons), not making it that easy to like her or her friendship with Needy.

There are a few stylistic moments in Jennifer’s Body and one that really sticks out is when Needy is running through the woods in her prom dress to stop Jennifer. The imagery is perfectly gothic and is something that feels familiar in how often it’s used in horror films but it still works really well in the moment.

I have to say the music in Jennifer’s Body is great. As the film progresses the music and choice of bands and songs – both real and fictional – add to the tone of the film and makes it feel of its time in a good way.

I think Jennifer’s Body is never quite as funny or as scary as it tries to be so it’s not a truly excellent horror-comedy. Needy is a pretty good hero and the bookends of the film surprised me, giving me the answer to “what happens after the horror madness stops” that I often wonder about when I do watch a horror movie. I liked that aspect a lot. Overall, I’m pleased I’ve finally watched Jennifer’s Body and I can see why it’s so loved by certain audiences but there wasn’t enough in it to make it a personal favourite. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

After escaping the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) reluctantly becomes the symbol of rebellion against the Capitol.

From the outset Mockingjay – Part 1 looks distinctly different from the previous two film. After the lush greens of the first arena and the bright sun, sand, and water of the second, life in District 13 is tinged in grey. It suits the setting as so much is set underground though certainly some of the night/dark scenes could’ve been lit a bit better.

Here we have a Katniss who is full of guilt and regret for leaving Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind and it’s only when she has President Coin (Julianne Moore), the leader of District 13, pledge to rescue Peeta and the other victors captured by the Capitol that she agrees to be the Mockingjay – the symbol of hope and rebellion for the people.

Cutting the final book in a YA book to movie adaptation series became the norm after the success of both Harry Potter and Twilight so it was little to no surprise that The Hunger Games went down the same route. This does mean that Mockingjay – Part 1 has far less action than the previous films as now not only are Katniss and Peeta no longer in the arena battling to the death, but instead it focuses more on Katniss’s state of mind as the conflict between the Districts and the Capitol grows. That’s not to say there aren’t any “action sequences” – Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) get caught up in a Capitol bombing – but they are few and far between and instead the tension and drama is more character focused.

A key part of the Hunger Games has always been how well the tributes can make themselves likeable and appealing to sponsors as that’ll help them survive. This take on the PR and propaganda machine takes a different turn in Mockingjay – Part 1. Former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plans to help the rebels by filming a load of propaganda films of Katniss to inspire the rebellion. It’s a pity Katniss works best when she’s not following a script. Just as District 13 are using Katniss in their propaganda, the Capitol is using Peeta and though the two of them are barely together during the film you can see how Katniss’s love for him (whatever kind of love that is) is still strong.

One of my favourite sequences in this whole series is in in this film. It’s a moment where Katniss sits by a lake with her film crew and sings a song called “The Hanging Tree” which is taken up and echoed by the mockingjay birds in the woods. That song is then used for one of Plutarch’s films and then a rallying cry for the people as they take a stand against the Capitol. The score by James Newton Howard is especially effective in this sequence too.

Nothing highlights the criticisms this series has on media/entertainment and how we consume it (both in the films and the books but especially in the books) than the fact that there were multiple upbeat techno versions of “The Hanging Tree” made and released. Using a song about a murdered man, a song with themes of freedom, death and martyrdom, as an upbeat song just feels very strange and wrong. I remember hearing one of the remixes when I was driving and doing a doubletake when I registered why the lyrics sounded so familiar but the beat did not.

Mockingjay – Part 1 lays a lot of the groundwork for the battle ahead and different character dynamics are given room to breathe like Katniss and Finnick (Sam Claflin) and Katniss and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) which continues to be one of my favourite and the most interesting relationships in this series. 4/5.

Non-Fiction November 2022 TBR

As the name suggests, Non-Fiction November is a month-long readathon where the main point is to read more non-fiction books than you’d usually do. This readathon/challenge is hosted by abookolive and this year there’s prompts you can use to make your TBR if you so wish and you can interpret each word/prompt however you want. Those prompts are:

– Record
– Element
– Border
– Secret

I’ve looked through my TBR and I have ten non-fiction books waiting to be read. A few of them are gifts but most of them are books I’ve bought myself as I have interest in the topic they’re about. I’ve featured all ten books but I’ve highlighted the three very different books I think I’m most likely to pick up this month – though hopefully I’ll read more than that.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
Rafa Nadal: The King of the Court by Dominic Bliss
Feminists Don’t Wear Pink and other lies by Scarlett Curtis
Women vs Hollywood by Helen O’Hara
Common People by Kit de Waal
Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London by Lauren Elkin
She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
What Would Boudicca Do? by E. Foley and B. Coates
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez

Rafa Nadal: The King of the Court by Dominic Bliss
This is like a coffee table non-fiction book, full of photos and short chapters, so should be a relatively quick and easy book to read. Nadal is one of my favourite tennis players and he currently holds the record of the man with the most Grand Slam titles.

She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey
This is by two of the journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein scandal and how they got people to talk about the abuse he inflicted on many actresses and other women in the film industry.

Black and British: A Forgotten History by David Olusoga
I feel like I should know more about the history of Black people in Britain and learn about the things I just wasn’t taught about in school.

Are you planning to read some non-fiction next month? Surprisingly (to me) I’ve read 10 non-fiction books/memoirs this year so far. My favourite was Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan. I’m interested to see if any of these non-fiction books knocks it off the top spot.

REVIEW: The Middle Ages (2022)

Life under lockdown for a well-to-do yet dysfunctional Argentinian family leads to the parents struggling to maintain their creativity while their eight-year-old daughter Cleo (Cleo Moguillansky) plans to sell household items in order to buy herself a telescope.

Pandemic-set films can be hit or miss and while covid is certainly still a thing, there’s at least some distance now from when the outbreak began and all the fear, confusion, and uncertainty was almost all consuming. The fact that The Middle Ages semi-autobiographical makes the depictions of lockdowns and a family in close confinement a bit more relatable and less

The Middle Ages is written and directed by Alejo Moguillansky and Luciana Acuña who play versions of themselves, as does their daughter Cleo. It’s an interesting premise and as Alejo attempts to direct a Samuel Beckett play over Zoom and Luciana tries to teach online dance classes one has to wonder if this was what lockdown was really like for this family. The chaos of multiple family members being on Zoom calls, either trying to work or in Cleo’s case trying to get through her school lessons is relatable and it is a realistic dynamic as these three people begin to feel suffocated by each other’s presence.

Personally, I preferred the first half of The Middle Ages as it was a humorous take on life in lockdown as family members got annoyed with one another, or they struggled to earn money or keep their sanity as their usual jobs could no longer be done due to everything shutting down. The little moments of humanity and relatability were often the funniest.

When things got a bit surreal in the second half of the film, that’s when it lost me a bit. For instance, there’s a sequence of Clara shooting her mother with a toy gun and her mother than getting blood stains on her shirt as she dramatically flails around the house, is this in either of their imaginations? Are they play acting? What is going on?

The Middle Ages has an interesting concept and a strong start but as things take on an almost dreamlike quality in their home, the characters become less interesting and the film loses what relatable charm it had. 2/5.

REVIEW: Call Jane (2022)

Chicago, 1968. Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a housewife, is expecting her second child but when she learns that continuing her pregnancy could kill her in a time when abortions are illegal in America, she finds help in an unlikely place and goes on to work with the group of suburban women who helped her.

Call Jane does a great job at tackling a tough topic with both sensitivity and humour though never makes light of the dangers these women are in. Both the group known as Jane themselves as they organise illegal abortions, and the women who are having the abortions could face jail, and then potentially lose their jobs or families because of their actions.

The humour and candour in Call Jane works because the situation of women having to illegally procure abortions aka basic healthcare, is the kind of situation where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Listening to male doctors talk about Joy as if she’s not in the room and not of value because the unborn child is seen as more important is laughable and frustrating.

Personally, I tend to think of Elizabeth Banks as a comedic actor so to see her as a lead in a more dramatic role was really different and she did a great job and is the heart of this story. Joy is an interesting character as she has her own biases that she’s never really considered before as she does have a more privileged background compared to some of the other women who come looking for abortions. It’s great to see how her attitude changes over time and how she almost gets a new lease of life as she does something meaningful and becomes more than a housewife and a mother – not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things.

Sigourney Weaver and Wunmi Mosaku play two of the prominent women in this underground abortion group that Joy meets. Weaver is especially brilliant and has pretty much all of the best lines and while the socio-economic factors of who has to get illegal abortions is mostly glossed over, Mosaku’s Gwen is an important Black voice in a group of well-meaning but white women.

The ending of Call Jane is quite abrupt and almost rushed which is a shame as the rest of the film was pretty well-paced and has an engaging script that does well to avoid some fo the clichés. It’s as if they didn’t quite know how to wrap things up or end this story without having a time jump. That being said, overall Call Jane is an enjoyable and unfortunately a timely film. If women could do this in the 1960s, what can they do today in order to have the freedom to chose what should happen to their bodies? 4/5.

As a sidenote, I highly recommend the documentary The Janes which goes more into depth about this group of women and the near misses they had with both the cops and the mob.

REVIEW: Hidden Letters (2022)

Documentary about how in modern day China, two women strive to preserve Nushu, an ancient secret language which bonded generations of Chinese women together through centuries of oppression in a clandestine support system of sisterhood and survival.

Hidden Letters paints a somewhat bittersweet picture of how the Nushu language is trying to be preserved and how the women preserving it are doing their best to keep their independence in a modern world. Hidden Letters covers culture, history, language, and how women fit into all of that.

Needless to say, I’d never heard of Nushu before and Hidden Letters was an interesting and informative documentary. There’s not a lot about how Nushu was invented as a language as it was something that was only came to light in the 1980s and often women had their writings buried with them when they died. It’s a secret language where they could talk about the hopes and fears when they were often kept locked in their chambers with their feet bound. It speaks of women’s strength when they refuse to be silent even when awful things are happening to them.

One of the young women the documentary follows is Hu Xin, a young divorcee, but even though her husband abused her, she feels like a failure as she’s neither a wife nor a mother and she feels like the whole point of being a woman is being a mother. It’s kind of sad that she feels this way but her friendship with He Yanxin, an older woman and an expert in Nushu, is lovely and continues the tradition of sisterhood that is such a big component of the language.

Simu Wu is the other young woman Hidden Letters follows and she faces similar difficulties when trying to find love. She sees the value in learning Nushu and the artwork she creates where the language is the focus and it’s a hobby she enjoys. Her fiancé on the other hand, sees it as frivolous and wants her to instead get a second job as getting enough money for them to buy a house and have a child is the only thing that matters to him. Her surprisingly progressive parents though are pretty awesome though.

It’s equal parts frustrating and farcical seeing how men just don’t understand the importance of Nushu and how it’s a uniquely feminine thing. At one point a group of two men and two women discuss on how to make Nushu more mainstream and one of the men says that Nushu has value but the main this is “how to exploit that value so it can be better marketed”. When one of the women pushes back on that idea and she’s quickly shut down. Sure, it’s a huge generalisation but women see the beauty and the cultural significance of the language as while things are certainly better compared to their ancestors, they can still relate to the horrible things the women experienced. Meanwhile, the men just want to find a way to commercialise Nushu and make money from it – exploiting women’s secret language like women have been exploited for generations.

Hidden Letters is a thoughtful and interesting documentary. Its observations are poignant as it shows how important and impressive Nushu is and that women and their voices still struggle to be heard today. 4/5.

REVIEW: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) tells his life story to reporter Malloy (Christian Slater). A story of love, betrayal, loneliness, and hunger.

Interview with the Vampire is one of those “classic “films of the genre that I’ve naturally been aware of for years but have never watched it. With a new TV show adaptation being released and it being spooky season I thought it was about time to see what all the fuss is about.

Overall, I did like Interview with the Vampire quite a bit, especially the whole gothic vibes it has going on. Plot-wise it felt kind of lacking at times and that tended to be when Tom Cruise’s Lestat was off screen for extended periods of time.

Lestat is a great character and Cruise looks like he’s having a great time being an almost campy vampire who loves killing and who is often exasperated with Louis, the guy he turned. There’s a scene where Lestat dances with a corpse and it’s just great. Feels kind of weird and out of place but also then again it doesn’t as Lestat is such a larger-than-life character you just kind of roll with it.

Louis is kind of a woe is me, kind of character so it’s a bit of a shame that he is the lead character and focal point for Interview with the Vampire. His sulkiness does make sense as part of him hates what he has become and how he has to kill in order to survive but it’s also made clear that vampires can be killed so if he was really craving death and freedom from this life, he was now stuck in then he could’ve done something about it ages ago.

Kirsten Dunst plays Claudia, a young child who is turned into an immortal vampire, and she gives a really impressive performance. How she appears to be an adult at such a young age is amazing and she outshines Pitt in nearly every scene they’re in together.

So really, the cast and vibes are what made Interview with the Vampire for me. When Lestat is off screen for a while it does start to feel like a bit of a slog as Louis just isn’t as charming or as interesting as the other two vampires that make up their odd little family. Because while Louis is lamenting about being a vampire, Interview with the Vampire is pretty gay and features Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise adopting a little vampire girl. It’s a strange family but it works for the most part – until Lestat and Louis start yelling at each other again.

Interview with the Vampire is kind of a strange film as it mostly tries to be super sombre but then you have Cruise’s Lestat camping up the place. It’s a drama, it’s a romance, it’s horror but it’s also comedy. Amazingly all those things work together for the most part and give you a film that somehow has stood the test of time. 4/5.