Reviews

READ THE WORLD – Fiji: Memoirs of a Reluctant Traveller by Sudesh Mishra

A poetry collection about travelling and the places and people a traveller encounters.

This is an incredibly short poetry collection at 52 pages and every poem is a dizain stanza – meaning it has ten lines and each are a complete poem. Though, because of the theme of travelling some feel more connected than others. Also, the order of the poems does seem like a conscious choice as some really flow well together.

The poems I enjoyed the most were the ones about the travelling experience; whether that was by plane, train, or bus. I haven’t been to any of the places mentioned in the poems so while they did paint a good picture, I couldn’t connect with them. However, I could relate to the poems where it was full of gripes about travelling and how with each mode of transport there are different things a person experiences. They captured the monotony of travel really well.

There’s nothing else I can really say about this poetry collection because it’s so short. Each poem gives a snapshot of a place or an experience and some of them work better than others for me.

REVIEW: The Sweetest Thing (2002)

Christina (Cameron Diaz) is more than happy to flirt, have one-night stands, and leave men in the dust. That is until she meets Peter (Thomas Jane) in a club and with the help of her best friends Courtney (Christina Applegate) and Jane (Selma Blair) she decides to follow her heart and to gatecrash his brother’s wedding.

While The Sweetest Thing is built on romance and the driving force behind Christina’s motivations is the fact she wants to see Peter again, it’s really about the friendship between these three women. Christina only meets Peter because she’s trying to help Jane get over her ex and it’s Courtney that drives them for hours in order to get to the wedding on time. All three of them are very funny people and they feel like they are great friends. They have in-jokes and do their best to cheer each other up while also being totally open with one another.

The Sweetest Thing has the crude humour also seen in Bridesmaids so if you like that, there’s a good chance you’ll like this too, and it should probably be talked about as much as Bridesmaids is to be honest. There’s a whole song and dance number about how to make a man feel good about his penis (sounds weird but it does work) and all three friends are very open about talking about their sex lives. There’s another musical moment featuring Aerosmith’s Don’t Want to Miss a Thing which I found hilarious and there’s a montage like any self-respecting romcom should have.

Cameron Diaz is just a delight in this film. She’s funny and sweet and while their first meeting is pretty short, she and Thomas Jane have enough chemistry to make you believe that she’d make the unexpected choice to travel for hundreds of miles just on the chance that there’s something between them. But really all her best moments are with Christina Applegate and Selma Blair, they all have great friendship-chemistry and each feel equal parts weird and real.

The Sweetest Thing is funny and at times outlandish and ridiculous but it never stops being fun. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Belize: Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell

Fourteen-year-old Beka and her best friend Toycie (who’s seventeen) are on the cusp of adulthood. They have family, school and boys to contend with as their home and everyone they know have to deal with the political upheaval as Belize strives towards independence.

Beka Lamb is set in the early 1950s and at this point Belize was a British colony. Throughout the novel there’s mentions of different political parties, how products coming from different countries mean different things, and Beka’s grandmother is heavily involved and up to date with the meetings that are happening in town. I knew nothing of Belize’s history before reading Beka Lamb and the way the politics of the country are interwoven in the story made things easy to understand and gave context to the reasons why characters said and did certain things. Having the story be from Beka’s point of view meant that there was almost a naivety to it at times as she had a lot of growing up to do.

As well as the political upheaval Beka’s family are living through there’s also how the Catholic church is a dominating presence in their lives – especially Beka and Toycie’s as the school they go to is run by nuns. The influence the women at the school have over them and the wider society can’t be underestimated. When Beka’s father asks them for help or even understanding when a situation arises, they refuse saying it’s a slight upon the school and their values.

The friendship between Beka and Toycie is the really heart of this story. Even though there’s three years between them they are really close and help each other in different ways. Toycie can help Beka with her school work while Beka will be a sometimes-reluctant alibi when Toycie wants to sneak out to see a boy. The differences in their homelives are glaring but also shows how strong their friendship is as there’s no resentment from Toycie. Beka lives with her parents, young brothers and her grandmother and while not well-off they don’t struggle financially. Toycie on the other hand lives with her aunt and she does struggle to provide for Toycie and is clearly living below the poverty line.

Beka Lamb is a pretty standard coming of age story; Beka tries to find her voice, do well in school, and stop lying. Having this story set in Belize and in a time of political and social upheaval adds extra layers to Beka’s story and while some thing’s are universal, others are deeply personal. 3/5.

REVIEW: Copshop (2021)

To escape the assassin on his tail, con artist Teddy (Frank Grillo) gets himself arrested by rookie cop Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) so he can hide out in a small-town police station but when the hitman (Gerard Butler) turns up at the precinct things don’t go according to plan and Valerie finds herself caught in the crossfire.

Directed by Joe Carnahan, Copshop is full of larger-than-life characters, gunfights, swearing and chaos. Set primarily in the police station, this film makes great use of the space as the action unfolds. It’s the scenes in the holding cells between Valerie, Teddy and the assassin (kept in separate cells) that standout – especially when things go wrong and Valerie is trapped in the holding cells with the two of them. The verbal sparring between the three is great and while Gerard Butler is good as hired killer Bob, his performance is of the more quiet and menacing kind, and he seems more than happy to give his co-stars the floor.

Teddy is the kind of wily conman character who you want to trust even though you really shouldn’t. It probably helps that Frank Grillo is a charismatic guy who, when not playing out and out villains, often plays characters that verge into more of an antihero. So, it’s easy to see why Valerie might be more willing to trust Teddy (a conman) than Bob (an assassin). With Teddy there’s more of a grey area but to her as a cop Bob is the opposite of the law.

Alexis Louder as Valerie is the true standout. She holds her own against her growly counterparts and knows exactly what film she’s in. She makes Valerie a fully realised character through her playfulness with a friend to her intelligence baiting a colleague who she’s not sure can be trusted. Plus, she’s got the physicality to handle the action sequences too.

Copshop does lose momentum at times but it’s the off-the-wall characters keep you interested and it’s hard not to have a smile on your face when the guns start firing. Got to give a shoutout to Toby Huss’s hitman Anthony Lamb too, he’s delightfully unhinged and is a great contrast to Butler and Grillo. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino

When Tess and Eliot stumble upon an ancient book hidden in a secret tunnel beneath their school library, they accidentally release a devil from his book-bound prison, and he’ll stop at nothing to stay free. He’ll manipulate all the ink in the library books to do his bidding, he’ll murder in the stacks, and he’ll bleed into every inch of Tess’s life until his freedom is permanent. Forced to work together, Tess and Eliot have to find a way to re-trap the devil before he kills everyone they know and love, including, increasingly, each other.

I’ve been getting the book-only Illumicrate subscription for the past six months and this is the first book I’ve actually read from them. That’s not necessarily anything against the books from previous months (especially as I’m just generally not reading as much as I used to) but as soon as I read the blurb for The Devil Makes Three and looked at that beautiful but dark cover, I really wanted to read it as soon as possible. Thankfully, for a book I’d never heard of before and had just piqued my interest – I really did enjoy The Devil Makes Three.

The atmosphere in The Devil Makes Three is incredibly vivid. Even before the devil makes an appearance there’s a sense of foreboding and bleakness to both Tess and Eliot’s lives. As the story progresses you learn more about the two of them and how their relationships with their parents are strained for different reasons. Each of them are going through tough times and with Tess especially it’s made her hard and prickly. She’s been betrayed by the people (her parents) who are supposed to care about her and put her and her younger sister Nat first so she now finds it incredibly difficult to trust and rely on other people. This means that she tries to deal with what’s going on with the devil on her own before opening up to Eliot about what’s been happening to her.

The things Tess ad Eliot experience after the accidentally release the devil are truly creepy and terrible. Things they experience blur the line between dream and reality, making events even more unsettling as they (and you as the reader) are never entirely sure what’s real. There is a bit of gore in The Devil Makes Three but it’s not over the top and instead it’s ink that’s used to give you nightmares. Honestly never thought of ink as creepy/evil but the way it’s described here, how it moves and bleeds from pages and almost devours people, it’s really quite disturbing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a creepy/horror story and The Devil Makes Three was really very good. The ending was a little sudden and I’d have liked to see more of the consequences of Tess and Eliot’s actions on people in their wider sphere who were affected, but overall, it’s a gripping and atmospheric read. 4/5.

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been living a normal life in San Francisco with his friends including his best friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina) but that changes when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends his men after him and pulls Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings.

I have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings twice now (and there’s a good chance I’ll see it a third time in the cinema) and I really truly love it. While almost naturally there’s a big CGI-heavy showdown at the end, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film, and as it’s a very CGI-heavy showdown that still puts the focus on the characters and their relationships, it works and is still very enjoyable. Plus, it pulls in elements from Asian culture that we just haven’t seen before in the MCU so it doesn’t feel like the typical end of the world scenario.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story of a family, and perhaps more than that it’s a love story. But not the kind of love story you’d expect with the superhero lead having a big romance. Here the love story is between Shang-Chi’s parents, Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), and how their love shaped each other and their children. Throughout the film there’s flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood (played by Jayden Zhang as a child and Arnold Sun as a teenager) to see the events that shaped him into the adult he is now. The way these scenes are interspersed throughout the film always feel natural and are complimenting what’s happening in the present. These scenes, while often more family and relationship focused, are just as compelling as the action sequences that are happening in the present. Ever single flashback feels important and adds something to the characters involved; whether that’s Shang-Chi, Wenwu, Li, or Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang as an adult, Elodie Fong as a child and Harmonie He as a teenager).

Having these flashbacks scattered through the film means that the main action and story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks in very quickly. After a prologue narrated by Li (and all in Mandarin) telling the backstory of Wenwu, the ten rings he possesses, and how the two of them met and fell in love, it’s straight into the everyday life of Shang-Chi and Katy and how they both quickly get caught up in Wenwu’s schemes. The first action sequence is set on a moving bus and straightaway you can tell that this is a film made by people who know how to shoot fight and stunt sequences – and it’s clear that Simu Liu (like other cast members) put in many hours of stunt and fight training because it’s easy to believe that he knows martial arts.

All the hand-to-hand fights are just thrilling to watch and the way they’re choreographed often shows little character moments in them. Character’s fighting styles aren’t all the same and Shang-Chi incorporating a headbutt (something far more American than anything his father would’ve taught him) into a fight is a fun little moment.

The MCU often has a problem with its villains; namely that they’re pretty generic and forgettable. The two main exceptions to this rule are Thanos and Loki and now there’s a third with Wenwu. He is a villain, he is a murderer and a conqueror, but he can love though over time it becomes twisted into something else. He is an understandable and complex villain and his connections to Shang-Chi and Xialing makes him compelling and the conflict between the hero and villain that more impactful.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my new favourite MCU movies and is definitely one of the great origin stories of the MCU. It’s fun and vibrant with great characters, fights and visuals and overall, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Also, I appreciated how the comedic moments were handled throughout the film. Katy is the main comedic character but her jokes and comments are never to the detriment to a dramatic or sombre moment. Plus, she feels like a real character by actually having her own family connections and skills that can aid the hero. I honestly did not expect to love this film as much as I did and I can’t wait for Shang-Chi and to meet other characters in this universe because i feel his dynamic with them would be so interesting. 5/5.

Also got to give a shout out to whoever put together the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There is really very little of the movie in the trailer, and of the third act especially. In some ways it’s good as there were so many surprises to be had when watching the film but in others it’s not as I thought the trailer was fine but it didn’t make me desperate to see the film. But maybe that was for the best as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has far surpassed any expectations I may have had.

REVIEW: Black and Blue (2019)

After capturing footage of corrupt cops killing unarmed young black men on her bodycam, rookie cop Alicia West (Naomi Harris) is on the run from the police as she fights to get the truth out there.

Black and Blue is the kind of film you’ve probably seen before. It’s a corrupt cop film that follows some very similar beats to films that have come before it and in fact the final showdown definitely had some echoes of Training Day. That’s not to say Black and Blue is a bad film, it’s just one that has very few surprises.

Naomi Harris is very good in the lead role, capturing the resolve to do what’s right while being unsure of who she can trust because just about every other cop she encounters as she tries to get back to the police station to upload the bodycam footage seems to have an ulterior motive. The one person she does learn to trust is Tyrese Gibson’s Mouse, a guy who works at a shop and doesn’t want any trouble but ends up helping her anyway. Having mostly seen Gibson in the Transformers and Fast and Furious franchises where he’s often cracking a joke every five minutes, it was nice to see him tackle a more serious role where his character was more stoic and thoughtful.

Almost unsurprisingly Frank Grillo plays the lead corrupt cop. He always does a good job of playing a bad guy though his character seems to have a slight manic edge to it that doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the tone that Harris and Gibson seem to be going for. Still, he’s always fun to watch and the scenes where he’s stalking Harris’ West are quite tense.

Themes of racial tension and whether or not a Black person can still be Black while being a police officer are sprinkled throughout the film. Black and Blue never really commits to these themes though; it’s like it’s trying to combine more recent Black Live Matter messages with a corrupt cop film of the late 90s/early 2000s and it doesn’t really hit the mark. West is someone who sees people as people and while she knows some people who ended up affiliated with gangs, she sees them as more than what her colleagues tend to do. Many of the cops and the Black people she meets seem to have an us vs them mentality which she does not share, meaning she struggles to fit in with her co-workers and the community she used to be a part of. Harris does a good job of showing West’s inner turmoil about this but neither her nor the script are really strong enough for this complex topic.

Black and Blue is a decent corrupt cop action movie. There are some lulls in the action but when Alicia West is on the run it’s often tense and entertaining. 3/5.

REVIEW: Snake Eyes (2021)

Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) has been living a nomadic life, trying to learn the secrets of his past when he saves the life of Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), heir of Arashikage clan. Tommy takes him to his home and gives him the chance to have a new life as a ninja.

Snake Eyes is a sort of reboot/origin story of the character that’s appeared in previous G.I. Joe films but you don’t need to know anything of those films or the characters in order to follow this one.

Snake Eyes is one of those films I’ve seen recently where I’ve liked the characters more than the plot they’re in. That does give the film some leeway with me as if I like the characters, I’ll pretty much just enjoy spending time with them no matter what they’re doing. I don’t know if Snake Eyes will make enough money etc for a sequel to happen, but I’d be more than happy to see Golding’s Snake Eyes and Koji’s Tommy again. Their dynamic was compelling and the actors had decent chemistry and what more can you want from a pair of leads where they each straddle the line between good and bad.

The action sequences in Snake Eyes are a bit of a mixed bag. Some are edited so much that everything feels frantic and it’s hard to see what’s exactly happening. This is a shame when you’ve got actors who know how to fight like Andrew Koji and Iko Uwais in your film as it’d be more impressive to see them fight in one shot. Other sequences are better, one with motorcycles and a moving lorry is pretty good, and some of the general espionage like sequences are often tense and interesting too.

Overall Snake Eyes is a pretty enjoyable film to get lost into this world of ninjas, spies and secret terrorist organisations. It perhaps does try and cram in a bit too much of the G.I. Joes lore to make it connected to the previous films/franchise but it’s still a fun film with interesting characters. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Ecuador: On Friday Night by Luz Argentina Chiriboga

Translated by Paulette A. Ramsay and Anne-Maria Bankay.

Susana grows up with her parents living next door to the Manns family – Susana and her parents are Black, the Manns are white. She spent her childhood playing with Jamie and Margarita next door and as she becomes a young woman, she’s unaware of how their father, Marvin, becomes infatuated with her.

I think On Friday Night is one of those books that would’ve worked better for me as an audiobook. That’s mainly down to how this book was written. It was written in both the first and third person and it took me a long time to realise the when it was in first person it was from Susana’s point of view. There’s no chapters or line breaks or anything to help show when the narrative has gone from one character’s point of view to another; it could change from one paragraph to the next. This made it difficult to follow to begin with, especially as there was no blurb on my copy of On Friday Night so I had no idea what the story could be about before starting it.

All I knew before starting On Friday Night was the author Luz Argentina Chiriboga is known for writing about the Afro-Hispanic cultural identity and that certainly came into play in this book. Susana’s family comes from a working-class background but Susana is smart and is able to go to university and get a job working at the bank where Marvin Manns is the manager. The Manns are Hispanic and much more affluent. There’s a blurring of the lines when Susana, Jamie, and Margarita are children as they just like having neighbours to play with but as they grow older there’s more frequent comments about Susana being Black, even from Margarita.

This cultural and class divide is even stronger once Marvin makes his feelings about Susana known. Their whole romance and situation just felt very messy to me. He’s at least thirty years older than her, she’s the same age as his children so any respect for her as a mother figure would be impossible to find, and while he is besotted with her, he also is quick to believe other people’s lies about her. I don’t know if it was down to the story, the writing, my brain or a combination of all three but at times I really didn’t understand what was going on with some characters motivations and choices. At one point Susana and Marvin break up and I was really unsure how they ended up back together as he never seemed to apologise for his accusations.

Besides from the “love story” between Marvin and Susana there’s the history of their parents that’s mentioned – again without any type of indication that we’re going to suddenly go into the past – and Susana’s first love who is a conman. Susana is so naïve in many ways and it can be frustrating to see how she reacts to different situations. I mean, at one point she truly seems to believe she could be a mother to Jamie and Margarita when she’s the same age as Jamie and maybe a year or two younger than Margarita.

The writing style in On Friday Night really didn’t really work for me but once I’d got my head around it, the story was fairly easy to follow – even if the point of view changes still got me every now and then. This all made a 150-page book take me longer to read than it should. If there had been line breaks or anything to make the reading experience easier, I probably would’ve enjoyed the story more. Though the whole relationship dynamic between Susana and Marvin still often made me feel uncomfortable.

REVIEW: Boss Level (2021)

Retired Special Forces officer, Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), is seemingly trapped in a never-ending time loop that restarts as soon as he dies.

I shall start off this review by saying perhaps you shouldn’t read this review. Because Boss Level is one of those films that is truly a delight and perhaps works even better when you know nothing about it. All I knew was that it starred Frank Grillo (an actor I always like) and I’d seen some positive buzz about it on my Twitter feed. But I enjoyed this film enough to want to write about it so do read on if you fancy learning about why Boss Level worked for me.

Boss Level begins by throwing you right into the time loop with Roy. By this point he’s died over 100 times and can predict and counter the moves of his attackers. His dry narration sets the tone of the film and shows just how bored he is of going through the motions. People are trying to kill him and he doesn’t know why and sometimes he doesn’t even care. By starting the story after Roy is used to his predicament, you’re learning about any new occurrences as he does and it adds to the mystery of it all.

Boss Level is also really fun and often funny. The fights, car chases and shootouts are great, and as there’s so much trial and error for Roy as he goes through certain scenarios (the error leading to his death again) you get to see how his skills grow as he learns what works and what doesn’t in a fight. The editing between the different loops as Roy gets further and further before dying is great too. How the film never over explains things and manages to briefly show you the steps Roy has taken since waking up without it ever getting boring is impressive. It trusts the audience to understand the time loop scenario (as there’s been many a time loop film) so if we join Roy in a loop further along, we have a good idea of what he’s already had to do since it’s pretty much the same every time.

The humour comes from Roy’s attitude to this situation he’s in, and from a lot of his deaths. Some are so sudden and unexpected while others he just sighs and waits for it to happen. Frank Grillo’s voice suits the almost wry narration style perfectly and he looks good doing a lot of the fight sequences himself. There are times where the tone gets more sombre, almost naturally there’s a lost love, but Grillo handles those moments well too.

Boss Level is action packed and innovative. The reasoning why Roy is stuck in a time loop is slowly revealed and the action and fights are always entertaining. Boss Level is just a real good time and it’s one of the first new-to-me films I’ve watched in a while that I’ve fully enjoyed and not just thought was simply fine. Honestly, I was starting to think I didn’t know how to like films anymore! 4/5.