Author: elenasquareeyes

Books of 2020

Here are all the books I read this year. My main reading goal for this year is to focus on my Read the World Project as I have over 100 books to read (and review) in less than two years if I want to meet my self-imposed goal. You can find out more about what I’m reading on my Twitter and Goodreads.

Without further ado, here’s what I read in 2020! Any titles with asterisks are rereads and if it has a link, that goes to my review.

January:
Only God Can Make a Tree – Bertram Roach
– The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
They Called Us Enemy – George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker
Night, Again edited – Linh Dinh

February:
The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History – Aida Edemariam
The Conspiracy – Israel Centeno

Currently reading:
– Love in No Man’s Land – Duo Ji Zhuo Ga
– The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

Books read: 6/60
Books reviewed: 5/30

TRAILER REACTION: F9: The Fast Saga

If you’ve been around my blog for a while, or if you even follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably know that I bloomin’ love the Fast & Furious franchise. They are a series of films that have gotten bigger, bolder, and more gravity and physics-defying with each instalment. They have evolved from petty criminals and street races to unlikely international crime fighters and the odd street race. And in this unlikeliest of film franchises, the core theme of them is family and it has my favourite trope – the family of choice.

Last night the first trailer for Fast & Furious 9 (which has continued the franchises trend of having odd and inconsistent names and is actually supposed to be called F9: The Fast Saga) dropped and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the night. So, here are my probably out of order and very excited thoughts and predictions about what is definitely my most anticipated film of 2020.

First of all, this trailer is very rude for starting off with the piano bit from “See You Again”. Does it want to make me cry in less than 30 seconds?! But it is really cute seeing Dom, Letty and kid Brian being a happy family. Side note: #JusticeForElena

There’s so much I love about this trailer. I love how the song choices are edited to the action and there’s so many great sound beats. Those big dramatic pauses like when Letty reveals that John Cena is Dom’s (and also presumably Mia’s) brother! And I really love the shots of Mia and Letty taking down bad guys together and then Letty going out of a window.

I think it’s great that Mia’s back. I just hope that Mia and Brian are still together with their kids. I’m sure they will be as I can’t imagine them killing Brian off screen but it’s still a small worry. I want Brian to be looking after Jack and their other child and kid Brian while Mia goes to help Dom. I can imagine kid Brian being sent to adult Brian’s because I doubt there’s anyone else Dom would trust to look out for his son while the gang save the day.

I also love that Helen Mirren is back as Magdalene Shaw. I just love that she’s in these films in general, never mind that she’s the matriarch of this crime family – although only one of them really is into crime, one was an MI6 agent and the other was in the army before they were framed and then turned to the life of crime. Who knew I could end up having almost as many emotions about the Shaw family as I do about the Toretto family?

And Charlize Theron is back as Cipher too! I love a female villain (even though she has a terrible haircut) and I’m interested in seeing her join forces with Jacob, and how their plan will come down in flames.

This trailer has everything I could want from a Fast and Furious trailer. The stunts defy physics, it looks so much fun, and it’s got so many of the old favourites back again to fight for their family. Vin Diesel is brooding, Tyresse Gibson is screaming, and Letty and Dom are being #couplegoals. It’s Fast and Furious and I love it.

Just when it looks like this trailer can’t get any better and I can’t get any more hyped – the ending happens. Han’s back from the dead! I legit flailed and had the biggest grin on my face, I couldn’t believe they’d kept it a secret and it was such a great surprise. And I love how the tag line is “Justice is Coming” when there was a whole #JusticeForHan twitter campaign after Deckard Shaw kinda joined the Toretto family by the end of Fast and Furious 8.

Yes, then there’s the whole thing of “How’s Han not dead when Jason Statham killed him?” Side note: I’m forever impressed at how they edited Jason Statham so seamlessly into Tokyo Drift so it could be revealed that Han’s car accident wasn’t an accident and Deckard Shaw was the one that caused it. But this franchise has brought characters back from the dead before! Letty was killed in Fast & Furious (number 4) only to have it revealed at the end of Fast Five that she was apparently back from the dead, and then in Fast & Furious 6 it was really her and she’d survived her car exploding but she had amnesia. I’m sure they can just as seamlessly do another edit of Tokyo Drift showing that Han had managed to get out of the car before it caught fire. Plus, Owen Shaw didn’t even die after he got thrown from a moving plane and Dom didn’t die after a whole multi-storey carpark fell on him, so the laws of nature don’t apply to these films as well.

Sure, all of that kind of means the stakes are lessened as we know our heroes are going to make it out alive (maybe not in this film, but in another one surely) but I don’t really care, because the characters don’t know that and for all the action and spectacle, what makes me come back to these films again and again is the characters and their relationships.

An argument that could be made is that the marketing team shouldn’t have put the Han reveal in the trailer, that seeing Han return when watching the film for the first time without out any prior knowledge would’ve had more of an impact. I can agree with that, but how many people would be tweeting “OMG Han’s back!” as soon as they get out of the cinema on opening day, spoiling it for everyone else? I think from a marketing point of view, having Han in the trailer gives another aspect to the publicity surrounding the film, and the filmmakers can somewhat control spoilers from the outset. I’m pretty sure Sung Kang hasn’t gone to any of the premiers for Fast and Furious films he wasn’t in, so seeing him there might’ve tipped some people off as well, so maybe it’s better to get the reveal out there and go from there.

Apparently the tenth Fast and Furious film is going to be the last one, and to continue the theme of people not staying dead, it’d be great if at the end of F9 it was revealed that Gisele was still alive and then she can join the family for one last ride. That would also mean that Han and Gisele could drive off into the sunset together which would be amazing.

I just love these films so much and will never get tired of their ridiculousness. I think the reasons these films work so well, even with all the retcons they’ve had over the past nine films (ten if you include Hobbs & Shaw), is that they just go for it wholeheartedly and embrace the ridiculousness. The rules do not apply to the world of the Fast and Furious and that is OK.

Have you watched the F9: The Fast Saga trailer as many times as I have? What do you make of it? I will be there opening day and it will be glorious.

READ THE WORLD – Vietnam: Night, Again edited by Linh Dinh

A collection of short stories by over a dozen different authors. These stories are about relationships, family, and show a side to Vietnam that’s not just the war.

Like with a lot of short story collections, I found Night, Again to be a bit of a mixed bag and unfortunately in this case I wasn’t grabbed by many of them. I thought the writing in them was generally good, and they each were like a slice of life for often very normal people. There were a few I really liked though.

One of them was “A Marker on the Side of the Boat” by Bao Ninh. This story was about a soldier who was saved by a woman, but then the pair of them are caught in a bombing. This was a fast paced and engaging story that pulls you in in such a short number of pages.

“Gunboat on the Yangtze” by Tran Vu was an unsettling one as it was about a brother and sister who have an incestuous relationship. It’s an uncomfortable read really as to begin with even though their relationship is obviously unhealthy, there’s an almost innocence to their relationship that it seems actually supportive and good for them. That strange feeling doesn’t last for long, as events quickly take an even darker turn.

A lot of the stories in Night, Again were dark or depressing. Even the ones that were lighter in tone had a sense of melancholy about them as the characters often had a bittersweet moment of realisation about their circumstances or who they were. I did get a bit of whiplash going from story to story as while a lot of them were pretty gloomy, there was the odd story like “Scenes from an Alley” by Le Minh Khue, which was a darkly funny tale.

All in all the majority of stories in Night, Again weren’t that memorable, but I’m pleased I read some stories that weren’t just focussed on a war, but often instead dealt with the everyday tragedies. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Set in the 1840s, David Copperfield (Dev Patel) attempts to navigate a chaotic world to find his place in it. From his unhappy childhood to his discovery of his gift for storytelling, he meets many eccentric people on his travels, and through them finds somewhere to belong.

Personally I’ve neither read the novel by Charles Dickens that The Personal History of David Copperfield is based on nor seen any of adaptations that have come before this one, so watching this film meant I was experiencing this classic story for the first time.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, a man best known for political satire and comedy like The Thick of It and The Death of Stalin. Having him then go make an adaptation of a classic story that’s over 150 years old was a bit of a surprise but it worked! The Personal History of David Copperfield is still very funny and it’s witty and clever like Iannucci’s previous endeavours but it’s also full of so much charm and heart that it’s just lovely.

The whole cast is brilliant, and what an ensemble it is. From Tilda Swinton as Aunt Betsey chasing donkeys, to Hugh Laurie as the good-natured but slightly odd Mr Dick, everyone is wonderful in their roles and there’s great chemistry between the all. They also wholeheartedly commit to the comedy, whether it’s a witty one-liner or clownish physical comedy, and while naturally it is a period piece their performances give this classic story a modern flair.

Dev Patel is the one who truly shines in the titular role. He has the perfect mixture of charm, bewilderment and earnestness for a lead character who is trying his best to fit in with whatever crowd he ends up in. The story of David Copperfield and the people he meets who have an impact on his life, shows the good in people; some may not be decent, but the majority will help those who need it. Having David start with nothing and strive for a better life, means he experiences all sorts of trials and tribulations, but he retains his kind heart.

The Personal History of David Copperfield flies by, so much so that some events and resolutions feel a bit glossed over, but it is still funny, wholesome and whimsical. It is truly a wonderful film and one that in the end feels like a warm hug due to the larger than life, but on the whole sincere, characters you meet along David Copperfield’s journey. 4/5.

Films of 2020

Here are all the films I’ve watched this year. My film-related goals of the year include watching 52 Films by Women (both films directed by and by women) which would be my fifth year of completing this challenge, and once again trying to watch some of the DVDs and Blu-rays that have been sat on my shelves for ages. You can find out more about what I’m watching on my Twitter or Letterboxd – I sometimes write a couple of lines of my thoughts of a film on Twitter/Letterboxd rather than writing a full review here.

Without further ado, here’s what I’ve watched in 2020! Film titles in bold are films I saw at the cinema and films with an asterisk are rewatches. Any title with a hyperlink goes to its review – whether that’s here on my blog or on JumpCut Online which I contribute to.

January:
– Puss in Boots (2011)*
– The Sound of Music (1965)*
– Logan (2017)*
– Predator 2 (1990)
– Southpaw (2015)
– Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)*
– Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)*
– Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)*
1917 (2019)
Little Women (2019)
– Safe House (2012)*
– Lockout (2012)*
Spies in Disguise (2019)
Just Mercy (2019)
The Great Debaters (2007)
– Remember the Titans (2000)*
Like a Boss (2020)
The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)
The Gentlemen (2019)
– The Quake (2018)

February:
Miss Americana (2020)
– Outlander (2008)
Parasite (2019)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
– Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
– The Falling (2014)

Number of different films watched: 26
Number of films seen in the cinema: 9

REVIEW: The Great Debaters (2007)

At the Wiley College Texas in 1935 Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington) who inspired his students and with the school’s debate team, went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

The Great Debaters is one of those inspiring films that though the characters go through their trials ultimately there’s hope for a better tomorrow. It’s the brilliant yet politically radical Tolson that helps his students finds their voices and put together their arguments. He’s the leading force for this team but, through his guidance, each member of the debate team finds their own way.

Set against the backdrop of racial segregation, Jim Crow laws and prejudice, The Great Debaters show how a small group of young people were given confidence in their abilities and fight to make themselves heard. The fact this debate team not only beat every team from African American colleges, but also went on to go toe to toe with white-only colleges is commendable and how the characters grapple with that pressure is clear to see.

The debate team consists of Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Henry Lowe (Nate Parker) and James Farmer Jr. (Denzel Whitaker). All the young actors give great performances, but a special mention goes to Denzel Whitaker who plays a young man who at fourteen is at least five years younger than his fellow debaters and it’s through his eyes we see a lot of the film.

Forest Whitaker plays James’ father, a minister and teacher, and their relationship is sometimes fraught but it’s also one of respect. Farmer Sr. and Tolson have conflicting ideas about things like unionising and what they should teach their students, and it’s interesting to see how two educated and progressive men can have conflicting ideologies but still be open to a healthy debate on them.

The Great Debaters is the second film Denzel Washington directed and it proves him to be talented behind the camera as he allows emotional moments to linger and trusts his actor’s performances in the close ups of their faces. The scenes of the different debates leave you enthralled as you watch these young people argue their side with passion. There are a lot of great lines that come from the debates but one that sticks on is: “No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always, is always right now!”

The Great Debaters is based on a true story and it does follow a lot of the typical story beats one might have, but that makes it no less enjoyable or uplifting. It is full of great, rousing speeches from Denzel Washington and it never shies away from the harsh realities so many people faced in the 1930s. 4/5.

REVIEW: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott and Harmony Becker

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard. They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalised racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

It sounds cliché to say reading They Called Us Enemy was a rollercoaster of emotions, but it was. It was infuriating to hear about some of the politicians and lawyers who set in motion the anti-Japanese sentiment have gone onto having very successful careers. It was sad to see what George’s parents went through and how they struggled to keep their family together and to do the best thing for them all. And it was wonderful to see that hope can survive in even the most terrible of circumstances, and how there are people who will help others even though they themselves may get hurt. I felt myself tear up multiple times reading They Called Us Enemy. Some tears were due to sadness and frustration that people were treated like this (and are still being treated like this) while other tears were of the joy of seeing George Takei meet with Gene Roddenberry and how Star Trek really had such a positive impact on George and the world.

They Called Us Enemy does a great job of showing both how a child would deal with having to leave their home and live in confined spaces with strict rules, and how adults would be scared because they have a better understanding over what is happening to them. There’s the childlike innocence about a lot of George’s experience, at least to begin with in some camps where they were obviously not pleasant but not as harsh as their later experiences.

I learnt so much about the internment of Japanese Americans from this book. I first heard about this event in history through following George Takei on Twitter, he said something about it that got me googling and I learnt about something I’d never heard of before when I was in my early twenties. A lot of quotes and moments in They Called Us Enemy will stick with me, but one that really stood out was: “That remains part of the problem – that we don’t know the unpleasant aspects of American history and therefore we don’t learn the lesson those chapters have to teach us. So we repeat them over and over again.”

I suppose I have the “excuse” of being British and growing up in the UK that I didn’t learn bout this part of American history in school, in fact in History class we barely touched on the attack on Pearl Harbour and it’s just the catalyst for America joining the war. Naturally all our history is UK-focused. But still, as George Takei says, it’s important to know our history – both the good and the bad – so we don’t make the same mistakes again.

They Called Us Enemy is an important and impactful book but it’s also a compelling story with wonderful art that perfectly captures the innocence of childhood. They Called Us Enemy is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone, whether they were a fan of George Takei or not. His childhood is, unfortunately, the childhood of tens of thousands Japanese Americans and it’s a story of 120,000 people that must be heard. 5/5.