Reviews

READ THE WORLD – Russia: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

It’s 2033, the world is ruined and humanity is almost extinct. Possibly the last of the worlds survivors live in Moscow’s Metro system. There they’re safe from radiation in the city above and societies have formed across the metro system and its many stations. Artyom lives in VDNKh, the north most inhabited station on its line, life there is good, until the station becomes endangered by outside forces. Artyom is given the task to traverse the complex metro system to search for help and to warn every one of the new threat bearing down on his native station, and the whole Metro.

Metro 2033 is an interesting story. It’s quite slow to start with as there is a lot of world-building to do. Each of the different train stations in the Metro have become their own mini society, some have become Communist, some are Fascist while many others have their own capitalist democracy. It’s interesting to see what life’s like underground and how it differs from station to station. It wasn’t till I was about halfway through the book and I felt that I had a fairly good understanding that the story picked up speed.

The whole book is quite exposition heavy really and in some ways, it reminded me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman – both are quite slow reads, with a lot of world-building and main characters who seem to go from A to B without being an active participant in the situations they’re in. That being said, I felt Artyom was a character who actually reacted to the mad and dangerous situations he found himself in and, as the story progressed, he became more proactive and confident in his decision making and abilities.

The people Artyom meets on his journey are all very different. My favourites were those who are old enough to remember life outside the Metro, and everyday normal life in the cities. There memories were often rose-tinted but it was good to see Artyom compare it to what he knows as he was only a toddler when everyone had to hide out in the tunnels. It was those moments where you really got the dystopian aspect of the novel.

Metro 2033 also has horror and sci-fi elements as there’s rumours of creatures who have been mutated by the radiation, lurking on the surface and readying themselves to enter the tunnels. There are some passages on Metro 2033 that are generally creepy and unsettling as Artyom traverses the dark tunnel between stations. There’s some eerie stuff in Metro 2033 but it doesn’t always pay off which is regrettable.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it does leave things on a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, there was no real build up to the “big reveal” so instead of a plot twist you could’ve figured out yourself, it’s more of a huge surprise. I think I will pick up the rest of the series at some point as I’m intrigued to see what happens next but Metro 2033 didn’t pull me in enough from the start to make me super eager to continue. 3/5.

REVIEW: Rudderless (2014)

When his son Josh (Miles Heizer) dies, Sam (Billy Crudup) stumbles across a box of his demo tapes and lyrics and starts to perform them. Soon he finds himself in a band, trying to use his son’s music to find some piece.

Rudderless is directed and co-written by William H. Macy (who also stars in the film as the owner of the bar Sam performs at) and for his directorial debut he puts together a great film. It’s filled with soft lighting, brilliant performances, wit and emotion.

The script has its twists and it deals with a heavy subject matter but all the cast handles it brilliantly. While it is sometimes a film that tugs on your emotions, it also has humour and vibrant characters that all feel like real people with their own problems.

So much of the emotion in the film comes from the music. It’s where Sam finds a connection with his son and where he finds a lovely yet unexpected friendship with fellow musician Quentin (Anton Yelchin). The songs are all fantastic and it’s the first time I’ve bought a films soundtrack in ages. Each song is touching and they are all well performed, Crudup and Yelchin both have great voices and chemistry both hen performing a song together and in just about every scene they share.

Rudderless is one of those films where I don’t really know how to describe it – it’s full of wonderful characters, a touching story and it is something special. It’s a hidden gem and I feel it’s a film that’s best to go in knowing as little as possible. Rudderless really is a delightful film. 4/5.

REVIEW: Z for Zachariah (2015)

Ann (Margot Robbie) lives alone with her dog after a disaster that wipes out most of humanity, that is until two men, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Caleb (Chris Pine), stumble into her safe world.

Z for Zachariah is an eerie film. You get to see how Ann lives a monotonous yet safe life while the rest of civilisation seems to have disappeared. She’s obviously strong and resourceful but she has an air of naivety around her as she doesn’t know what it’s really like outside of her little bubble of safety. So when she encounters first John and then Caleb, who both appear to have seen terrible things, she’s very trusting and comes across much younger than the two of them.

Z for Zachariah is beautifully shot and has some haunting music. It’s a film that takes its time, letting you get to know these characters and their relationships as it slowly builds small hints of conflict between them. The three actors are all brilliant and they all have good chemistry and the dynamics presented between their characters is interesting.

Z for Zachariah is a gripping drama and is definitely one of those films that its best to go into knowing as little as possible. 4/5.

REVIEW: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

In her everyday life Eliza Mirk is shy, awkward and hates school, but in the online world she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of mega popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine ever enjoying the real world as much as the online one so she never really bothers to try. That is until Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction author, transfers to Eliza’s school and, believing Eliza is just another fan, he begins to draw her out of her shell. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally revealed everything in her life is thrown into turmoil, her relationship with Wallace, her art and even her sanity.

I loved this book. I’ve been wary of books about fandom because I’ve always kind of felt that the first rule of fandom, is that you don’t talk about fandom. But I’m so happy that Eliza and Her Monsters showed me that there can be great books about fandom that respects and understands it.

Eliza and Her Monsters is a mix-media novel, it includes panels from Monstrous Sea as well as emails, letters and instant messages. This, plus the fact the book is great, helps make Eliza and Her Monsters a really quick read. I loved how the extracts from Monstrous Sea often mirrored the situations Eliza found herself in, giving you an extra insight as to where her mind is at. The Monstrous Sea story was just as interesting as Eliza’s story and the book did a great job of explaining the plot of the webcomic enough that when characters discussed who their favourite characters were, you had a good idea who they were talking about.

Eliza’s two best friends are Max and Emmie and they’ve never met face to face. I love how Eliza and Her Monsters shows how people behind a computer screen can be, and often are, just as important a connection as those you see in the flesh. The three of them are all great friends who not only share the fandom stuff but their real-life events too. I also liked how Eliza realises and apologises when she does sometimes takes Max and Emmie for granted, she’s a flawed, ordinary person who mistakes and I loved reading about her.

I was on edge as the story progressed as I could tell that Eliza’s internet identity would come out and everything she had with Wallace would be put in jeopardy. I hate confrontation, both in real life and in fiction, and had grown so attached to Eliza that I didn’t want to see her hurt.

I loved Eliza and Her Monsters. I loved how various characters grew on me as the story progressed, how I could relate to Eliza but still get frustrated with her sometimes, the complexities of online and offline personas – it was all so great. Eliza and Her Monsters made me cry because it hit me right in the feels and that hasn’t happened with a book for a long time. 5/5.

REVIEW: Wonder Woman (2017)

When pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands onto the home of the Amazons, bringing news of a war to end all wars, Diana (Gal Gadot) leaves her home and all she knows to go fight to save those who can’t protect themselves.

Diana is a brilliant hero. She’s confident in her powers and her beliefs so there is none of the “oh the pains of being a superhero” that you often see in superhero movies. She is strong and compassionate, and while she doesn’t always understand the world of Man, the film never makes it into a big deal or is condescending about her lack of experience.

There’s humour to be found in her bewilderment and it’s all very charming but never patronising. I think that’s one of the great things about Wonder Woman, it’s never defensive about its titular character nor its story, it’s sincere in the way Diana and the film itself, celebrates inner strength and the power of love and compassion.

In many ways, the film makes you wait for the action sequences, instead spending time allowing the characters to talk and learn from one another. These quieter moments are never boring and are often funny. That said when the action and fights do happen, they’re brilliant. The way you see Diana, and the rest of the women of Themyscira, fight is magnificent. They are all powerful and skilled and the way the camera shows off their skills is captivating. There is so slo-mo used, which does make sense as Diana can move super-fast, so you can really see how she avoids gunshots and bayonets.

Diana is an amazing character and the shots of her fighting side by side with Steve, and leading him and Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) into battle gave me chills. Gal Gadot gives a great performance, showing both Diana’s power and sensitivity in the face of war, and the quieter moments between her and the other characters are a delight. While there is sometimes a joke made about a woman in battle, none of the men who fight by Diana’s side ever doubt her or her abilities.

The villains in Wonder Woman aren’t the most well-developed but as that is something that could be said of a lot of superhero films, it’s not a huge complaint. I would much rather have a film with a fantastic hero and a mediocre villain, than a great villain and a dull hero. Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is an army General with grand plans and Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) is a master at making poisons, she was an interesting character and it’d be cool to have learnt more about her.

Wonder Woman is a wonderful film. It’s very much a traditional superhero origin story but is a lot more charming and sincere with it. Diana is a brilliant hero who brings a sense of hope to the world. 4/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) past catches up with him when undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew are out for revenge. Jack sets out to find the trident of Poseidon as it might be the only thing to save him.

The Jack Sparrow you meet in this film is not like the one seen in the previous films, especially the first three. Those films he acts a bit drunk and is weird but he’s still a crazy kind of smart that he can see the moves ahead and surprise people. In Salazar’s Revenge he’s a bit past his prime, is very drunk and if he does achieve something it’s more by accident than any type of skill. Unfortunately, it makes Sparrow annoying as the film focuses more on the slapstick humour of the character than his wit and it’s kind of sad to see him like that.

Joining Sparrow on his adventure is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) who each have their own agendas for searching for the trident. Both are fun additions to the franchise and each do things to further the plot and seem to have their own character arcs. I did like Henry a lot, he’s his own person but you can see both of his parent’s attributes in him which is nice.

This film has a messy plot with a lot of characters and motivations. There’s a witch (Golshifteh Farahani) that serves no real point than delivering information to other characters in two scenes and then is never seen again, and there’s the British Navy once again but that plot thread is almost an afterthought.

One of the problems with this film is there’s a fair few times that the plot and character backstory contradicts what you’ve already learnt in the previous four films. This might not be as noticeable if you haven’t seen them in a while but watching this film less than a week after concluding my rewatch, I noticed multiple things that didn’t add up.

On the most part, the action looks good and is fun, the guillotine sequence is a bright point in the film but it gets very CGI heavy as the film progresses. Salazar is a menacing villain, though admittedly he’s a bit hard to understand sometimes, and the scenes between him and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) are pretty tense.

Salazar’s Revenge lacks the charm of the first film and while it brings back some old characters which helps add to the emotional impact of the film, it’s not that memorable. 2/5.

REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin travel through a “wrinkle in time” to find their missing father at the advice of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which. But can they overcome the dangerous forces they meet on their journey through space and time?

A Wrinkle in Time is said to be a children’s classic but I’d never read it nor had never heard of it till all the talk about the film adaptation which is due to be released next year. It was the film and hearing about all the people cast in it, many of them are some of my favourite actors, that got me to pick up the book.

I like how A Wrinkle in Time combines science with fantasy and how it shows different planets and creatures through the eyes of a child. As both of Meg and Charles Wallace’s parents are scientists there’s a lot of talk about maths and fact and how people work things out. This was great to see in a children’s book as in some ways it made difficult topics like traveling through space accessible – and it’s always great to see a young female character interested in STEM subjects.

Meg is a great character. She’s about thirteen years old and sometimes gets overwhelmed by the situation she is in, missing her father and being flung into danger by three strange beings, but she uses her faults to overcome her fear. That’s the thing I really liked about Meg and this book, it took a character’s faults like stubbornness, fear and anger and made them a valuable part of the character. Yes, those traits are often seen as negative but they are a part of Meg just like her love and intelligence.

The thing that surprised me most about A Wrinkle in Time is how it shows that parents are fallible. There’s a childlike wonder throughout most of the books, even with the threat of danger present, that when Meg sees her parents as normal people for moment it’s a surprise. I think this theme is a great thing to include in a children’s book.

I liked A Wrinkle in Time well enough. It’s a quick read with likeable characters but as someone in their twenties, it’s not a book I loved. I can see why it’s become a much loved book for many but it does lack that emotional punch reading it for the first time as an adult. 3/5.