Author: elenasquareeyes

REVIEW: Strokes of Genius (2018)

Documentary that intertwines Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal’s lives with their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.

With the world as it is at the minute I, like probably so many other people, turn to the media that brings me comfort. Like all other sporting activities, tennis has had to be put on hold, but there is one tennis documentary that I’ve loved since the first time I watched it so that’s what I found myself watching as a form of escapism.

Strokes of Genius looks at the lives and careers of Federer and Nadal, both individually and how they relate to one another. The 2008 Wimbledon Final is used as an example of what makes them two of the greatest players ever and shows how it is still considered to be the pinnacle of tennis matches. The narrative of the documentary is built around the match and while the match is intersected with footage and information about Nadal and Federer’s childhoods, and there is input from their families, friends, and other tennis professionals, the tension still builds as the match goes to five sets.

Naturally Strokes of Genius will appeal more to tennis fans, and to Federer and Nadal fans specifically, but it’s also a love letter to great sporting rivals. How those rivals can shape someone’s career and life, make them a better player, a better fighter, and the unique relationship two rivals have. While the Federer and Nadal rivalry is the focus of Strokes of Genius, it also looks at the Borg and McEnroe rivalry and the rivalry between Evert and Navratilova. All four of them appear in the documentary and it’s fascinating to see how they feel about each other and their legacy as rivals.

There are so many great quotes in Strokes of Genius about both players, from each other and from the various people featured in the documentary. But I feel this quote from Roger Federer’s fitness coach, Pierre Paganini, sums up the two men and why their matches (both generally and when they are against one another) have always been so interesting and entertaining to watch; “Roger is an artist who knows how to fight whereas Nadal is a fighter who knows how to be an artist as well.”

Strokes of Genius really is an enjoyable an informative documentary. Every time I watch it it takes me back to the summer of 2008, watching that epic match, and it reminds me how much I love and appreciate both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, and all they have achieved, individually and together. 5/5.

The Blogging from A-Z Challenge – 2020 Edition

It’s nearly April so that can only mean one thing – the A-Z in April Blogging Challenge! The challenge is to post on your blog every day in April except Sundays. Not including Sundays, there are twenty-six days which matches with the twenty-six letters of the alphabet. That means on 1st April you write something beginning with the letter A, on the 2nd something beginning with the letter B and so on and so forth.

This will be the seventh year in a row I’ve taken part in this challenge and I hope to complete it once again. It’s become almost a tradition to do this challenge and I hope I continue to have ideas for it as the years go by.

This year all my twenty-six posts will be film reviews. More specifically reviews of some of the eighty plus films I have unwatched on DVD and Blu-ray. You can have a sneak peek at what some of the films might be by checking out what’s on this Letterboxd list. I’ve had some of these films for so long, some probably for over five years, so this is just the push I need to finally watch them. For the letters where I don’t have a film on DVD or Blu-ray that begins with that letter, I shall turn to the likes of Netflix to find a film.

In April I will still be posting my weekly book reviews as usual. I’m not sure if there will be “bonus” film reviews that are more modern releases/films I’ve watched that aren’t for this challenge, it’ll depend how I feel and how I keep up with the posts/reviews.

Because watching films and then reviewing them takes more time than the average post I’ve done for this challenge previously (especially as some of my unwatched films are really long!) I’ve been somewhat organised and have already scheduled thirteen posts (which is half of them!) and plan to have more scheduled before April arrives. Unfortunately, those thirteen aren’t the first thirteen days of April because I’m someone who has to be in the mood for potentially more serious or heavier films and I just don’t make things easy for myself.

Hopefully having so many posts scheduled already means I won’t be rushing to get the next post out and that I will be more active in visiting and commenting on other people’s blogs during the challenge.

There’s still time to sign up for the A to Z in April Challenge. I do recommend it; it definitely makes you stretch yourself to think of something for every letter and it encourages you to be organised – something I’m always trying to be better at when it comes to my blog.

REVIEW: The Kitchen (2019)

When their gangster husbands are sent to prison, their wives continue to operate their rackets and under their hand the business thrives.

The production design, hair and costuming firmly places The Kitchen in the time it’s set; late 1970s Hell Kitchen, New York. The violence is often bloody and shocking, and events seem to happen very quickly, there are a few montages complimented by an iconic song from the era. It would’ve been nice if some plot points could’ve had more time to evolve but on the whole the twists and turns work.

The three leads in The Kitchen are all great and while these characters are (for the most part) all working towards the same goal, they each have their own take on the situation and different strengths and weaknesses. Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) is a stay at home mother and is the one with the family connections to the Irish Mob. She’s the most level-headed but also the most compassionate which can lead to her downfall. Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) has always felt like the outsider and never accepted by the family, leading her to want more money and power than the family could ever dream of. Claire (Elisabeth Moss) has been beaten by her husband and refuses to be the victim anymore.

The support network these three women have for one another is wonderful, but that doesn’t mean they always see eye on how to run this business. The Kitchen does a great job at handling the core theme of “women in a man’s world” and how they can be as ruthless and as smart as their male counterparts, but also have different ideas on how to take on the same challenge.

McCarthy is the standout. When she has a dramatic role, she can sink her teeth into she can really bring out a brilliant performance. Kathy is often seen as the more mumsy of the three, but McCarthy does a great job at showing that inner steel and determination as she becomes more comfortable with the power and status she wields.

The Kitchen is engaging, surprising and has a trio of lead performances that really pull you into the story. It’s great to see a gangster movie with the women at front and centre. 4/5.

O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon 2020

The O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon returns next month! This month-long readathon is the brainchild of Gi at Book Roast on YouTube and it’s the third year it’s happened. Last year was the first year I took part and after successfully completing my O.W.L.’s and N.E.W.T.’s I qualified to be a Ministry Worker in the Department of International Magical Cooperation.

The challenge is based on the Hogwarts examinations in the world of Harry Potter, but you don’t need to know a lot about it or be a Harry Potter fan to take part in the challenge. The basic premise is that each Hogwarts subject has its own prompt, you read a book that fits that prompt and then you’ve achieved an O.W.L. in that subject. This readathon lasts the entirety of April so it gives you plenty of time to try and cram in as many O.W.L.’s aka books 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.

This year there’s some new careers and bonus courses, seminars and training if you want to challenge yourself. I’ve decided that my chosen career this year is Mage of Visual Arts. This sounds like a fun career as you make the pictures and portraits move and it’s the most like the muggle world of film. The O.W.L.’s I need to earn are in Astronomy, Charms, Divination, and History of Magic. That’s four books I need to read but I would also like to push myself and do an extra training course. I would like to learn to operate locomotive trains aka the Hogwarts Express. I love driving cars, so as there’s no course on learning how to drive a flying car (yet!) it’d be fun to learn how to drive a train. The O.W.L.’s I need for that are Defence Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies. So, the total number of books I need to read in April is six. That’s doable for me.

I’ve had a look at my bookshelves and below are the books I plan to read to get my O.W.L.’s to become a Mage of Visual Arts. I’ve also got books for the other O.W.L.’s in case I do better than expected and can fit in a couple more books during the month.

Ancient Runes – Heart rune: heart on the cover or in the title
A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney
I’m reaching a bit here, but it has the word “heart” and a heart shaped key on the cover, so I think it counts. I read A Blade So Black last year for my N.E.W.T.’s so it’d be cool to read the sequel for my O.W.L.’s.

Arithmancy – Magical qualities of number 2: balance/opposites – read something outside your favourite genre
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I’m not even sure what my favourite genre is anymore (I’m going to probably do a blog post about that at some point) but a genre I don’t read that often is sci-fi so that’s the reason I’ve chosen Gemina.

Astronomy – Night classes: read majority of this book when it’s dark outside
Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki
This book is relatively short at 240 pages and is about sisters growing up in the countryside in Athens before the Second World War.

Care of Magical Creatures – Hippogriffs: creature with a beak on the cover
Infinite Son by Adam Silvera
After going through all my books because I really wasn’t sure if I had a book that had creature with a beak, I found one!

Charms – Lumos Maxima: white cover
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan or The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak
The Bloodprint is a book I bought just because the cover was super pretty and all I know is it’s a fantasy. The Architect’s Apprentice is a historical fiction and is set during the Ottoman Empire. Both have white covers.

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Grindylows: book set at the sea/coast
Viper by Bex Hogan or The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan
Both books take place on islands and heavily involve the sea. I think Viper is more of a pirate book while The Gloaming is more of a mermaid/fairy tale book – I think!

Divination – Third eye: assign numbers to your TBR and use a random number generator to pick your read
Hawkeye: Avenging Archer by Jim McCann, David Lopez, Duane Swierczynski, Manuel Garcia and Paco Diaz
Putting together all the unread books I have on my kindle, on audio and in my flat (there’s more unread books at my mum’s) I had 47 books for the random number generator to choose from. It picked number 17 which was Hawkeye: Avenging Archer which I couldn’t have picked better myself as comics/graphic novels are always a good idea in a readathon.

Herbology – Mimbulus mimbletonia: title starts with an M
Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi
Turns out I have one book that has a title that begins with the letter M so I guess I’m going to be reading Mama Hissa’s Mice.

History of Magic – Witch hunts: book featuring witches/wizards
Angel Mage by Garth Nix or Truthwitch by Susan Dennard or mystery book
This one was surprisingly difficult. I’m not sure if Angel Mage has witches or wizards in it but there is magic. Based on the title and the premise I’m pretty sure Truthwitch features witches. Or the last witchy-book I could read for this prompt is one I don’t have yet. I’ve ordered April’s Wildest Dreams book box and the book apparently has “Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels” so that could work too.

Muggle Studies – Book from a perspective of a muggle (contemporary)
The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
This looks like it’s a sad contemporary about a relationship that’s ending and it’s potentially wasn’t a healthy relationship either.

Potions – Shrinking Solution: book under 150 pages
A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
I’ve got A Small Place on audiobook and according to Goodreads it is 81 pages long so definitely works for this challenge.

Transfiguration – Animagus lecture: book/series that includes shapeshifting
Downfall by Rob Thurman or The Invasion by K.A. Applegate
This subject was hard to find a book for as I don’t really read many books with shapeshifting in them and I don’t think any of my unread books have it in either. After looking at my bookshelves, the only book I could find that would fit was Downfall. It’s an urban fantasy and I remember earlier on in the series there were werewolves so that’d count. The other option is the fact I recently learnt that apparently all the Animorphs books are available online for free. Animorphs isn’t a series I read as a child but I have vague memories of the TV show, and as they’re children’s books they’re likely to be short and easy to read (which is always a good thing for a readathon) so I could pick up the first book in the series.

That’s my TBR for this years’ O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon. Are you taking part in the readathon and what career are you aiming for? In August there’s the N.E.W.T.’s which can be even more challenging and will be the final hurdle for achieving your chosen career. Wish me luck!

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week it’s what books we plan to read this Spring (and what with this coronavirus stuff, I might actually read all of these in the next few months if I can’t leave the house). The first five books are all audiobooks I’ve recently purchased. I go through phases of buying audiobooks – especially when there’s offers on – and they’re all for my Read the World Project.

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell
Now I don’t really know much about this one, just that it’s set in Zambia and I think it follows a couple of families for generations.

United States of Banana by Giannina Braschi
This seems like a bit of an odd book but an interesting one. It seems like it’s an alternate history kind of thing, set post 9/11 the Puerto Rican prisoner Segismundo has been imprisoned for more than one hundred years, hidden away by his father, the king of the United States of Banana. But when the king frees his son, he makes Puerto Rico the fifty-first state and grants American passports to all Latin American citizens, causing an unexpected power shift with far-reaching implications.

The Door by Magda Szabó
The Door is about the relationship between two women of opposing backgrounds and personalities: one, an intellectual and writer; the other, her housekeeper, a mysterious, elderly woman who sets her own rules and abjures religion, education, pretence and any kind of authority.

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
An expansive essay on colonialism and its effects in Antigua.

Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko
My read for Ukraine. All I know about this one is that it caused a stir in Ukraine and it’s very feminist.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
I received this via TBTB Santa (thanks again Jocelyn!) and I really want to read it sooner, rather than later. Especially as I think the sequel has recently been published so it’d be nice to read them close together.

Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi
This would be my read for Kuwait and it’ll be the first book I’ve ever read that’s set there.

What Would Boudicca Do? by E. Foley and B. Coates
This was a gift from my best friend and sounds like a great non-fiction read about gaining inspiration from powerful and resourceful women throughout history.

Viper by Bex Hogan
I got this book in a subscription box last year and I remember my friend Bryony reading it and liking it so it’s about time I got to it. It’s kind of a pirate/sea book I think and I can’t even remember the last time I read something like that.

Infinity Son by Adam Silvera
Another book I received in a subscription box. It’s been a while since I’ve read some urban fantasy (I think that’s what this is) or fantasy in general, and I’ve yet to read a book by Adam Silvera so I’m interested in seeing what I make of his writing style.

If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. What books are you hoping to get to over the next few months?

REVIEW: Ophelia (2018)

Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) comes of age as lady-in-waiting for Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), and her singular spirit captures Hamlet’s (George MacKay) affections. As lust and betrayal threaten the kingdom, Ophelia finds herself trapped between true love and controlling her own destiny.

Ophelia, as you might’ve guessed, is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet but putting Ophelia front and centre. As someone who only knew the bare minimum of what happened in Hamlet, you don’t need to know the story before watching Ophelia, though I’m sure if you did know it you might notice more of the things they put a spin on.

The performances in Ophelia are not that great, and in some cases are just bad. The likes of Watts and Clive Owen (who plays Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius) are fine but never really go full throttle on inhabiting characters have the potential to be interesting and entertaining. MacKay and Ridley have very little chemistry, and unfortunately Ridley’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, there’s some scenes that are supposed to be big, emotional moments based on other characters reactions and the score, but from Ridley’s performance you wouldn’t really think Ophelia is that affected by what is going on.

The period costumes and setting all look lovely. The costumes and makeup during a costume ball sequence are especially interesting, with Ridley having blue face paint around her eyes, contrasting with her red hair. Also, in another party scene, George MacKay has a lot of eyeliner on which is certainly a look.

The 1 hour 40-minute runtime does end up dragging a bit. The plot meanders along slowly and while every effort is made to put Ophelia front and centre of the action and in charge of her own destiny, in reality she’s still a victim of circumstance and the men in her life – Hamlet, Claudius, her father – still often have more power over her life than she does.

The finale is somewhat satisfying as all the tensions between characters reaches boiling point and the threat of conflict with a neighbouring country comes to fruition. However, it feels almost too little too late and it doesn’t have the emotional heft that you’d want in an epic finale.

Ophelia is a bit of a dull spin on a classic story. While the idea of having this story told by a female character who is unfairly treated in the source material, the end product isn’t as interesting as that scenario. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Angola: Transparent City by Ondjaki

Translated by Stephen Henighan and narrated by Sam Peters.

In a crumbling apartment block in the Angolan city of Luanda, families work, laugh, scheme, and get by. In the middle of it all is the melancholic Odonato, nostalgic for the country of his youth and searching for his lost son. As his hope drains away and as the city outside his doors changes beyond all recognition, Odonato’s flesh becomes transparent and his body increasingly weightless.

While the blurb focuses on Odonato, really Transparent City is an ensemble book as it follows the many people who live in the apartment block who have connections to it, whether that’s the postman or local politicians and tax inspectors. The male characters are the focus though, with the female characters being cooks, wives, mothers, secretaries and objects of the men’s sexual desire. It’s the men who have pseudo-narrative arcs

Transparent City is such a weird story. There’s the magical realism aspect with Odonato. He slowly becomes more transparent and weightless as he misses his son and he lose hope of seeing him again, or of seeing his city how it used to be. That part, while odd is understandable. It’s a lot of the other things going on with the characters that is confusing and farcical. Confrontations and conversations appear to go around in circles, as they do their best to befuddle whoever they’re talking to with rhetorical questions and agreeing to disagree. It feels like there’s little point to their actions and it’s difficult to gage whether the outcome is in their favour or not.

What is clear in Transparent City is that money talks in Angola and those who have it can pretty much do whatever they want. There’s also corruption and violence. The police will only help people if they are bribed, and the politicians are far removed from the everyday issues an average person may have. There are sparks of goodness and community though. The people who live in the apartment block help each other out, for the most part, and will give what they can to those who need.

I listened Transparent City on audio and to be honest, I found it a struggle to get through. I think that was mostly down to the narrator. There’s a lot of characters in this book, both male and female, and he doesn’t do anything with his voice to differentiate between the characters when they’re talking, or when he’s narrating the narrative. It makes it difficult to follow the story and to distinguish who is who. Also, I think how the book is formatted influences that too as there’s no chapters, instead there’s what I presume to be line breaks when the story goes from one characters point of view to another, but that’s hard to pick up on when listening to the audiobook.

It’s a shame that I didn’t get along with the audiobook, and maybe if I’d physically read the book I might have been able to understand it better, but I do think Transparent City didn’t work for me for reasons beyond the narrator. There often seemed little point to characters actions, and the story itself didn’t seem to have a beginning, middle or end. It was hard to become attached to any of the characters, and there may be somethings in term of the culture and politics of Angola that I didn’t understand or get deeper meanings of, but I should’ve been able to follow the story a lot better than I did.