Reviews

REVIEW: Stan & Ollie (2018)

Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) attempt to reignite their film career as they embark on a gruelling theatre tour of post-war Britain.

Stan & Ollie opens with a four or five-minute-long tracking shot of Laurel and Hardy as they make their way through a film studio, passing cowboys, Roman soldiers and crew members, as they discuss their marital situations and their next move career-wise. This was a great way to introduce these two men and show off how films were made, and the stars were controlled in the Classical Hollywood era.

Soon after that though it’s 1957 and Laurel and Hardy aren’t as young or as famous as they used to be. Coogan and Reilly both do a great job in their roles. They’re clearly having a lot of fun with the slapstick sketches, which are fun to watch too, but they both are well-suited to the more dramatic and emotional moments too. There’s a lot of history between the Laurel and Hardy we follow here, but there’s a deep friendship too. Great performances and cracking chemistry make them a compelling duo.

The supporting cast are great too and the whole film is almost stolen by Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson, playing Ida and Lucille, Laurel and Hardy’s wives respectively. The majority of the laughs come from these two. Their interactions with each other are often scathing and witty, while their interactions with their husbands are equal parts caring and amusing.

Stan & Ollie is lovely and charming. As someone who knew little to nothing about Laurel and Hardy before seeing this film, I found it accessible, engaging and fun. It’s not exactly ground-breaking in terms of what a biopic can be, but the performances make this film more than worth the price of admission. 4/5.

Advertisements

REVIEW: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench emerge, the trolls set out to take her apart. Izzy, along with her best friend Ajita, sets out to figure out who’s behind the vicious website while still trying to maintain her grades, humour and sanity. Izzy is about to find out that the way the world treats girls is not okay, and she’s not going to stand for it.

I loved this book so much. This review is probably just going to be me gushing about how The Exact Opposite of Okay gave me all the feels. It’s been so long since I’ve fallen so hard and fast for a book and a main character. I read some five star reads last year but none of those books were ones that I devoured quite like The Exact Opposite of Okay. I read most of this book in one sitting, and to be honest if I’d started it earlier on on the day I first picked it up, I’d probably have read it in one day too.

Izzy is just a phenomenal character. I loved her sense of humour and how she uses that and sarcasm to keep people at bay and to cover up how she really feels. (That’s something I can relate to) I also love how self-aware she is, she knows her faults even if she often tries to hide them from everyone else.

Izzy is a great character as while she readily admits she likes sex and dislikes the double standard men and women are held to when it comes to sex and their sexuality, it doesn’t mean that she’s not hurt, confused and ashamed when private photos of her are spread all over the internet. It’s one thing being confident in what and who you want, but it’s another when all your decisions and appearance is being scrutinised by not only everyone at your school, but all over the world.

I loved Izzy’s friendship with Ajita, how the two of them know each other so well and while they are from different backgrounds that can put them at a disadvantage in the world, Izzy is poor and Ajita is Nepalese-American, they can sympathise with each other over those things because they are unfair in different ways but they never presume one of their issues is bigger or worse than the others.

Izzy and Ajita’s other friend Danny is also important to them both but his behaviour and entitlement put my back up from the very beginning. He and Izzy had been friends since childhood but from the start of the book it’s clear he’s realised he likes Izzy more than just a friend and doesn’t handle the situation well. Danny was a great yet pretty unlikable character for the most part, and that’s because he’s so well-written and believable. I’m sure many women know or have known someone like Danny.

I really like the way The Exact Opposite of Okay was written. It’s all Izzy’s personal blog posts, but with little interjections from future-Izzy along the way. As someone who has had a blog in some shape or form for close to 15 years (I had a LiveJournal and all teenage-me’s deepest hopes and fears are there) I thought it captured the way people can sort of write like a stream of conscious about something that happened perfectly.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a brilliant story about slut-shaming, revenge porn, and the so-called Friend Zone. It’s funny, unapologetic and truthful as you are willing Izzy to be strong and get through something terrible that she didn’t deserve. Because that’s the thing The Exact Opposite of Okay does so well, it shows Izzy’s struggle with guilt and feeling like she deserves the cruel comments and everything that goes with private images being shared online, but she doesn’t and it’s very clear about who’s in the wrong in the situation and that’s who made the website. We’re just over a week into 2019, but I doubt I’ll love another book this year like I love this one. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Syria: Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph by Yusra Mardini

At just seventeen, Yusra Mardini and her older sister Sara, decide to flee their native Syria when the fighting gets too dangerous. Together they make the perilous journey to the Turkish coast and board a small inflatable dinghy bound for Lesbos. Twenty passengers are forced onto the tiny craft and soon the engine dies and the boat begins to sink. Yusra, Sara and two others jump into the sea to lighten the load and help navigate the water for an exhausting three and a half hours until they reach the shore, they save the lives of everyone on board. Butterfly follows Yusra’s life from a happy childhood, to growing up in a war-torn suburb of Damascus, through Europe to Berlin and on to Rio de Janeiro where she competes as a part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Yusra, her sister, and the other people they met as they travelled to Europe are all so incredibly strong and brave. Yusra and Sara have to leave Syria without their mother and younger sister. While they face dangers as they deal with the sea, smugglers, and the police across Europe, there’s still the constant worry about their family who are still in a city where there’s almost constant shelling and gunfire.

It’s tough to read about Yusra’s life in Damascus after the conflict starts. It’s sad that she becomes desensitised to the sound of gunfire or explosions so quickly when she’s a young teenager. She and her family have so many near misses when it comes to dangerous situations. For instance, Yusra is training in the swimming pool when a bomb falls through the ceiling, lands in the pool, and doesn’t explode. There’s a mad rush to get as far away from the place as possible and that incident puts a stop to Yusra’s training and dreams of the Olympics for a while.

Yusra’s story does well to capture how there’s good and bad people everywhere. How someone might call the police on a group of refugees because the constant media cycle about terrorists makes them paranoid, but then others might volunteer to help people find clothes, food, and somewhere to stay in a country that’s far from home.

Butterfly does so much in disproving the narrative that some portions of the media like to present about refugees. None of them want to leave their home. Before the fighting starts, Yusra and Sara are like any other teenage girls, they go to school, they swim, their have friends and go shopping. Because we, by which I mean Western audiences, often only hear about countries in Syria when there’s conflict, and see images of bombed out cities, and people living in tents with no electricity, it’s easy to take that as face value and presume that’s what life has always been like for those people when in fact it’s the complete opposite.

Yusra’s internal battle with the word “refugee” was fascinating and explained really well. It’s so easy for her to see it as an insult or a sign she’s a charity case, for instance she struggles to decide if she wants to be a part of the Refugee Olympic Team because she feels she should get there the same way as any other competitor. As time passes though, thanks to the people she meets and what she learns about herself, she decides that it’s just a word and it doesn’t make her any lesser than anyone else.

Butterfly is well-written and engaging. I found it easy to care about Yusra, her family and new-found friends. Yusra is an inspiring young woman, but she makes it clear that while she’s learning to use her fame and voice to bring attention to the thing’s refugees go through and how they are still people with hopes and dreams, she is still the same person who loves to swim and wants to compete for her country in the Olympics. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bumblebee (2018)

On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, and tries to keep him out of the hands of the US military.

I’ll be honest, the first Michael Bay Transformers film is one of my go to comfort films and I really enjoy it. The rest of the films in the series are varying degrees of quality to say the least and I was very apathetic about The Last Knight. But I’m happy to say Bumblebee is like a breath of fresh air compared to the latter Bay films.

Bumblebee’s plot is so much simpler compared to some of its predecessors, and that allows the story to build on the characters and their relationships naturally. There are two Decepticons (voiced by Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux) searching for Bumblebee who enlist the US military to help them search for them. The main guy in the army you follow is Agent Burns (John Cena), he’s very much a shoot first, ask questions later kind of guy but weirdly, probably due to Cena’s charisma, the way he delivers jokes is more entertaining and almost more believable than the tough guy persona.

Hailee Steinfeld is wonderful as Charlie. She’s a bit of a loner and she’s even an outsider in her own family as she doesn’t feel like she fits in any more. Charlie is smart and caring and her relationship with Bumblebee is wonderful.

Bumblebee is charming and does a brilliant job of combining heart with spectacle. Like the previous Transformers films, there’s still battles between Autobots and Decepticons but this time the characters on both sides are seriously stripped back leaving those who are present more room to grow. When there are fights between robots, they’re easy to follow and entertaining.

It’s perhaps a bit on the nose with the 80’s inspired soundtrack, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. The music is like a comforting hug and that, along with a story about a kid and an otherworldly creature, makes Bumblebee feel familiar and heart-warming. There are similarities to be made between Bumblebee and E.T. and The Iron Giant, both in terms of the plot but also because at its core is a wonderful friendship between a young person and a powerful creature.

Bumblebee is such a fun and lovely film, with so much heart and humour, that it feels almost old-fashioned in the best possible way. 4/5.

REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home and her quiet village, even though it’s close to the Wood, a corrupted place full of malevolent power. Close to her village in a tower lives the Dragon, every ten years he chooses a girl and keeps her for that time. The next choosing is fast approaching and Agnieszka, just like everyone else, knows the Dragon will take Kasia, her best friend who the most beautiful and talented. But events don’t go how everyone predicts and when the Dragon arrives it’s Agnieszka, not Kasia, he chooses.

Uprooted is a fantasy story with magical creatures and a beautiful magic system. How the magic worked for different characters and how different magic users would craft spells was always interesting to me. The Dragon is a wizard and he likes things in order and logical, especially when it comes to magic and spells. Agnieszka on the other hand, is more chaotic and organic when it comes to weaving spells. Her learning about her abilities and how it differs from so many traditional wizards and witches was both fun and interesting.

The Wood is such a unique villain as it were. It’s something that is alive and has thoughts and goals that are sometimes beyond what people could imagine. It’s an unsettling presence throughout the story and when someone is taken by the Wood, it won’t give them back easily. It corrupts creatures, people and the land around it. There’s not only the Wood to worry about, there is also political intrigue with Kings and courts that Agnieszka and the Dragon have to deal with.

The problem I had with Uprooted was I never felt the urge to pick it up and continue on to the next chapter until I hit the 300-page mark – that was almost three quarters of the way through the book! I think that was down in part to the writing style, it paints a very eerie yet beautiful picture, and while stuff did happen before page 300, it was all building to that moment but it hadn’t really pulled me in. I mainly read Uprooted for my A-Z Reading Challenge. It’s a few days before 2019, the only letter of the alphabet I hadn’t completed was the letter U, so I did persevere with Uprooted when under normal circumstances I would have probably put it down.

Uprooted is a good magical story that somehow manages to feel whimsical and haunting at the same time. The setting feels like a fairytale but it has a darker undertone too. On the whole, the characters and their relationships were compelling, but the story never did enough to enthral me. 3/5.

REVIEW: Bird Box (2018)

When a mysterious force decimates the population, the one thing survivors do know is that if you see it, you die. Blindfolded and following her last hope for safety, Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and her children embark a dangerous journey down a river to the one place that may offer sanctuary.

Bird Box starts with Malorie telling her two children the rules about what they’re about to do, the most important one being – never take off your blindfold. As they set off on their journey, the film goes back to six years earlier and that’s where you slowly start to learn how Malorie ended up in this dire situation and how the world started to collapse.

For the most part, the film manages these two plots well as there’s multiple flashbacks and in fact the majority of the film is about Malorie meeting other people and them all learning how to survive together. However, having these two plots does make it a bit over-stuffed and potentially a bit longer than it needs to be.

Sandra Bullock is fantastic. Malorie manages to be strong, desperate, thoughtful and cold all at once. She is the focal point of the film and you can feel her terror. The supporting cast is great too, some have less to do than others – it’s easy to forget about Jacki Weaver’s character – but when they’re on screen they all bring something to this desperate and very different group of people.

Bird Box knows how to amp up the tension and bring the scares when needed. It’s all about less is more, and it’s the fear of the unknown that puts you on edge. An eerie score along with tight direction makes the story which could verge on the outrageous, be more uncomfortable and enthralling.

Bird Box is tense and, at times, horrifying. The performances suck you in and at times it can be a heart-pounding experience. It’s now available on Netflix and is definitely worth a watch. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

One summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands what sort of asylum the woman was seeking….

The Bone Clocks had been sitting on my shelves for four years. I’d read, and enjoyed, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell but from that I knew his stories could be fantastical and epic and I was never really in the mood for the concentration I’d need to have to read a story like that. In the end, I got the audiobook from my library and that got finally got me to read this story. The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Jessica Ball, Leon Williams, Colin Mace, Steven Crossley, Laurel Lefkow and Anna Bentinck, and I thought they all did a fantastic job at bringing the many characters to life.

The Bone Clocks is so much more than its two-sentence blurb suggests, but at the same time, I have no idea of how to give this story a concise and somewhat spoiler-free summary. The Bone Clocks is a story that spans decades, and while the story might not always be told from her point of view, Holly Sykes is always connected to the characters you’re introduced to in some way. It’s equal parts confusing and fun, especially in the first half of the book, seeing how this character you are now following is connected to Holly and how their relationship with her will unfold. While Holly is the central character that a lot of the big events and decisions revolve around, the other characters each have their own story and personality that’s usually just as engaging as Holly’s.

Holly Sykes is a character that grew on me. She’s young and naïve when you first meet her, and somewhat unlikeable too but seeing how her experiences, good, bad and unexplainable, affect her life, she becomes more sympathetic and mature. She suffers a trauma at a young age and doesn’t know how her life will be affected by granting the strange old lady, Esther Little, asylum. She becomes entangled in something much bigger than herself, and it take a while for everything to become clearer, and even then, there’s some events and characters that almost can’t be explained. The other characters are fully-formed with some being unlikeable while others are almost undefinable. Ed Brubeck was probably my favourite character as he felt the most realistic and relatable to me.

The Bones Clocks is well-written with some beautiful passages and engaging characters. It is weird and fantastical, but at its core there’s Holly Sykes and her very human life. There’s so much going on in The Bone Clocks, it’s hard to give it a definitive genre. There is magic, secret wars, family drama, death, and souls play a major role too. The Bone Clocks is an epic story, but it is an odd and sometimes confusing one too. You spend so much of the novel, not know what’s really happening or how everything is connected, that when things are explained, there is a lot of exposition.

Still, I did enjoy the audiobook and I think consuming the story that way helped me take it in and become more enthralled by it than if I was reading a physical copy. 3/5.