Reviews

REVIEW: Skyscraper (2018)

Framed for the unfolding disaster, security expert Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) must infiltrate the world’s tallest building as it burns to save his family who are trapped inside with criminals.

If the premise of Skyscraper sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because you’ve seen some variation of this film before and it hits some pretty generic action beats to move the plot along. It’s also very easy to make comparisons to Die Hard and The Towering Inferno. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say Skyscraper is a combination of the two. Luckily for Skyscraper it has Dwayne Johnson as it’s lead, so some terrible dialogue and recycled plot points are easier to ignore.

Honestly the charisma and star power of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson really has to be admired as he will make any generic action film watchable. Will Sawyer is a compelling character who happens to be ex-military and is an amputee with a prosthetic leg. Having the hero of this disaster movie be more vulnerable was a nice touch. While Will was still strong and capable of running through fires, climbing buildings and fighting bad guys, there are moments where he has to stop and check his prosthetic leg over. Plus, as the days turmoil goes on it shows how having a prosthetic leg can be both a help and a hinderance in this unique situation. There are some action sequences that make use of the prosthetic leg, but on the whole, it is just shown as a part of him and that he is just fighting to save his family.

The performances from the supporting cast are solid too with people like Noah Taylor and Chin Han showing up making you go “I know him from somewhere!” Neve Campbell plays Sarah, Will’s wife, and she actually ends up with more to do than you think.

The set pieces are pretty spectacular, and I imagine seeing Skyscraper on a big screen would’ve made them even more impressive – and maybe even a sense of vertigo. The sequences where Will is climbing outside of the building, or his family is running through the burning building are good though the closer hand to hand fight scenes are a bit harder to follow and look a little messy at times.

Skyscraper isn’t really anything new to the disaster/action move genre, and it’s more serious than you’d expect, but it’s still reasonably enjoyable even if you can predict a lot of what happens and everything gets wrapped up unexpectedly quickly. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)

The Pevensie children, Peter (William Moseley), Susan (Anna Popplewell), Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley), travel through a wardrobe to the magical world of Narnia and discover they’re a part of a prophecy to free Narnia from the clutches of the White Witch (Tilda Swinton).

I remember going to the cinema to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but can’t quite believe that was fifteen years ago. I grew up reading The Chronicles of Narnia and really enjoyed the film adaptations, but as it’s been so long since I’ve watched them, I thought I’d revisit them as an adult an see if they still have the same magic about them.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is one of the most faithful book to film adaptations I’ve seen, especially for a children’s series where so often what ends up on screen is completely different to what’s on the page. Perhaps it helps that the Narnia books are certified classics and are known across the generations, or it’s just more proof of the care and heart that was put into this film by everyone involved.

There are some moments that don’t grip your attention as much as others, but overall, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a story of hope, perseverance and good triumphing over evil. It’s a universal story and one that’s told very well from the production and set design to the performances.

The four young leads are all wonderful and they do feel like real siblings. Georgie Henley as Lucy is especially brilliant as it’s with her that you encounter Narnia for the first time and her wonder and delight is infectious. For me, Edmund has always been the most interesting of the Pevensie siblings. He’s jealous of his older brother and he can be mean but over the course of the film matures as he sees the consequences of his actions and strives to help others and do good. Skandar Keynes does a good job at showing how spiteful Edmund can be, but also how sympathetic and remorseful he truly is.

Tilda Swinton is the White Witch. She is menacing and cruel and can switch from being seemingly kind and caring to vicious in a second in order to get what she wants. She’s a foreboding presence even when she’s not on screen and it’s clear to see why the creatures of Narnia fear her so.

Half the fun of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is hearing well known voices come from a variety of creatures – Ray Winstone and Dawn French as Mr and Mrs Beaver is a delight. The special effects, makeup and costumes that bring the creatures of Narnia to life are fantastic and still hold up fifteen years later. One has to wonder how the filmmakers here made a pretty photorealistic lion with Aslan, that looks and acts like a lion while still being able to emote, and the lions and creatures in The Lion King (2019) just don’t emote at all.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a film that’s still full of magic. The care and attention put into everything from the costumes and special effects to the score and the story, means that it looks just as good and is just as enjoyable all these years later. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Nicaragua: Life for Each by Daisy Zamora

Translated by Dinah Livingstone.

A poetry collection from Daisy Zamora, a Sandinista combatant during the liberation struggle who ran the clandestine Radio Sandino which broadcasted the call for a general insurrection in June 1979.

Life for Each is a super short poetry collection of only 70 pages. The collection is split into four parts. The first is a study of different people Zamora has met and connected with, the second has more personal poems, the third and fourth parts explore her family and friends and how they connect to her political love and anger.

Something I really liked about this poetry collection was how on the opposite side of the page to the English translation, was the poem in its original language. It was nice to be able to see the original text how the author wrote it and, if you know any of the language, being able to get some extra meaning from it. I’ve read a few books on my Read the World Project that have done this and I think it’s a great way to present a translated work.

I still find it difficult to write about poetry collections. As I said it’s a short collection and most of the poems themselves are short, only a few stanzas long, and to the point. They are punchy and affective but equally some of the longer poems are moving. “Lullaby for a Newborn Girl who Died” is about the death of Zamora’s newborn baby and it’s very bittersweet.

The poems in the latter half of the collection that are about politics, revolution, anger and desperation were the ones that I really liked. They’re small insights into political upheaval and how Zamora viewed those events. The final poem in the collection – “Families of CIA Victims Protest Outside the United States Embassy” – does a great job at showing the desperation of the families and the cruelty of those in the Embassy because they really just don’t care. This poem, like a lot of them in the collection, is passionate and heartfelt and eye-opening.

REVIEW: Paradise Hills (2019)

Uma (Emma Roberts) wakes up in Paradise Hills, an apparently idyllic reform school for wealthy young ladies, but things are not what they seem.

Honestly, I was not sure what to make of Paradise Hills to begin with, but I slowly got captivated by the whole look of the film and that unsettling feeling that something isn’t quite right at Paradise Hills.

Uma is strong-willed and opinionated – two reasons why she was sent to Paradise Hills as it’s where she can learn to become a better version of herself aka the version that her mother wants. At Paradise Hills she meets other girls who are in a similar position to her. Chloe (Danielle Macdonald), Yu (Awkwafina) and Amarna (Eiza González) are all there for different reasons but they are also all content with who they are.

The relationship that forms between them all is one of love and support. They are solid friends who look out for and help one another. The moments there are tension between them are not because of what one girl is thinking, but because of the situation they’re in and it’s circumstances that threaten to tear them apart.

There’s an other worldly beauty to Paradise Hills thanks to the art department. The production design, the hair, the make up and costumes makes Paradise Hills (the place) seem so far removed from what we know. It often gives off a twisted Alice in Wonderland vibe, especially with all the roses everywhere and the obsession with mirrors. To carry on the Alice in Wonderland analogy, The Duchess (Milla Jovovich), who runs Paradise Hills, almost fills the Red Queen role. She’s in control of everything, though she can lose her cool in a spectacular fashion, she’s obsessed with roses and she’s the only person in Paradise Hills whose clothes are colourful, making her stand out from everyone else. Uma and the other girls always wear white dresses while the male servants, gardeners and attendants are also in white.

The beautiful costumes and location is a harsh juxtaposition to the thoughts and emotions Uma is going through. Paradise Hills is perfection and that’s what Uma is supposed to be learning to be, but she doesn’t want to. She knows who she is, who she loves, and she doesn’t want to change anything about herself.

Paradise Hills is so much more than I thought it’d be. The theme of women supporting women is so strong, as is the message that people (especially young women) should be happy with who they are no matter what pressures from family or society they might face. The whole production is stunning and that makes the dark underbelly of what’s really happening at Paradise Hills all the more affecting. 4/5.

REVIEW: Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland

Deathless Divide is the sequel to Dread Nation so there may be vague spoilers for the first book in this review.

After the fall of Summerland, Jane McKeene hoped her life would get simpler: Get out of town, stay alive, and head west to California to find her mother. But nothing is easy or as it seems and soon after Jane arrives in a town called Nicodermus, she comes to believe it’s not as safe as everyone believes. Jane soon finds herself on a dark path as she’s out for revenge and closes herself off from the world. But one person won’t let her shut herself off completely. Katherine Deveraux never expected to be allied with Jane McKeene. But after the hell she has endured, she knows friends are hard to come by – and that Jane needs her, too, whether Jane wants to admit it or not.

Amazingly, Deathless Divide is even better than its predecessor. It’s told in dual perspective with the chapters alternating between Jane’s point of view and Katherine’s. it’s great getting to see things from Katherine’s perspective and she becomes a much more fleshed out character as you learn more about her past and how she struggles with the fact she can pass for white. Also, both perspectives are equally gripping and they both have distinct voices which is always a plus for dual narratives.

Jane honestly has gone through so much and she is such a fighter, but her quest for revenge and how desensitised she has become to killing the dead, puts her in a precarious place. She likes to think she doesn’t need anyone but that’s not the case and it takes a long time for her to sort all those feelings out in her head.

Jane and Katherine’s friendship is really the heart and soul of this book. Jane needs Katherine and Katherine wants to be Jane’s friend. They balance each other out and have fought and survived together, meaning they know one another unlike anyone else. There are other relationships in Deathless Divide, romantic or otherwise, but none of them are as strong or as important as Jane and Katherine’s.

In Deathless Divide you learn more about how the shamblers (the undead) have affected the rest of the country, and there’s even mentions of outbreaks around the world showing it’s not a localised event. Deathless Divide combines different genres and themes in an interesting way; it’s a survivors story, there’s Western elements, there’s a deeper discussion of bioethics and experimentation, and there’s a lot of trauma and how that can effect someone’s psyche.

All the while Deathless Divide continues to work as an alternate history because there are so many actual historical elements included and adapted for this scenario. For instance, the explanation for the Chinese arriving on the West Coast and how that effects things and how no matter what, it’s Black people who are always at the bottom of the theoretical social ladder.

Deathless Divide really goes to dark and unexpected places and it’s all the better for it. It doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities Jane and Katherine live in the; the racism, the cruelty, the threat of death at any moment – from shamblers or humans – and it’s still an action-packed story with lots of twists and turns. It also has a very satisfying if a little bittersweet ending to what really is a fantastic duology. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Ukraine: Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex by Oksana Zabuzhko

Translated by Halyna Hryn. Narrated by Angela Dawe.

I had go to Goodreads to get a synopsis because I really wasn’t sure how to sum up this book, so here we go:
Narrated in first-person streams of thought, the female narrator is visiting professor of Slavic studies at Harvard and her exposure to American values and behaviours conspires with her yearning to break free from Ukrainian conventions. In her despair over a recently ended affair, she turns her attention to the details of her lover’s abusive behaviour. In detailing the power her Ukrainian lover wielded over her, and in admitting the underlying reasons for her attraction to him, she begins to see the chains that have defined her as a Ukrainian woman.

Honestly not sure what to make of Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex. I listened to it on audio and I’m not sure if that helped or hindered my experience of reading it. The narrative seemed to jump back and forth in time with no real clear signposts as to where we were in the main characters life. It’s a rambling narration of her thoughts and feelings about love, relationships, and what it means to be Ukrainian. It’s hard to keep up while listening to the audio so I have no idea if it’d be easier to follow if physically reading it.

Also, while the Goodreads synopsis say it’s in first-person, sometimes the stream of thought goes into second or third person as well which can make things more confusing. Though I suppose it’s also a way to show the narrators distance from some of her life experiences, or she’s reliving them in her memory and can now have a different take on events due to her new understanding of herself or the situation.

The discussions about being Ukrainian and the culture and history and language was one of the most interesting parts of Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex to me. It was a way to learn about a country that had its struggles and a culture of fear and repression and how that affected its people, especially women. Then seeing the differences between life in America and Ukraine and how it opens the narrator’s eyes to a new way of thinking was interesting too. She experiences a clash of cultures and it makes her rethink her relationship and how it wasn’t good for her for a number of reasons.

The sex scenes and musing on sex is graphic a lot of the time. She uses harsh and sometimes vulgar language to describe the act and it can be uncomfortable to listen to, not only because of the sexual content but how she sees herself when it comes to sex. It’s in those scenes that it’s really clear that her relationship isn’t a good or healthy one and the way her partner treats her, during sex and generally, is not OK. From this relationship she has an almost warped sense of self that she’s then re-examining once she’s out of it in relation to culture and heritage.

Much like The Naked Woman, I feel Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex could do from being a book read with others so you can then discuss it. There’s a lot of themes in it but the stream of conscious narrative along with the random time jumps makes it difficult to follow and appreciate what this novel was trying to say.

REVIEW: See You Yesterday (2019)

Two teenage scientists C.J. (Eden Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian (Dante Crichlow) who have built portable time machines use them to try and save C.J.’s brother Calvin (Brian ‘Stro’ Bradley), who was wrongfully killed by a police officer.

See You Yesterday is a very relevant film. Before Calvin is killed there’s moments where it’s clear that the police aren’t to be trusted. For instance, C.J. and Calvin have an argument in the street, just like any brother and sister do, and two police officers ask them what’s the problem in an intimidating manner. There’s tension in the scene that comes from the script and from just knowing what is happening to Black people at the hands of the police now and for years before.

C.J. and Sebastian are great characters and their friendship is at the heart of the film. It’s refreshing to have a film where romance is firmly at arm’s length with both of them scoffing at the idea of being anything over than best friends.

Naturally there’s a lot of the usual time travel tropes; not wanting to run into your past selves, accidentally changing things for the worst, but they work because we know the tropes. As a viewer, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a lot of time travel media, or at least have an idea of the “rules of time travel” so it’s how C.J. and Sebastian either fall into those traps or try and avoid them that is interesting. The fallout from some of their time travel adventures is emotional and both the direction and the young cast make those emotional beats land.

Having looked at the comment section under the trailer I can see the ending of See You Yesterday isn’t to everyone’s liking. I can see why as it’s sudden and leaves you wanting a more definitive answer. However, I feel it does suit the story and C.J.’s character. It perfectly encapsulates her desperation to save her brother and highlights how time travel is a fickle thing and may not give you the results you want.

See You Yesterday is fun, imaginative and emotional as it combines the socio-political issues of today with a time travel adventure. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Antigua and Barbuda: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Narrated by Robin Miles.

An essay drawing on Kincaid’s experiences of growing up in Antigua and how the Antigua tourists may see is vastly different to the one Antiguan’s live in.

A Small Place is a piece of creative non-fiction. Jamaica Kincaid refers to the reader as if they were a tourist visiting the island, describing what they may see, what they think of the beautiful beaches, the food, and the people. But soon after describing how wonderful everything can look to a tourist, a little bit of paradise, she goes onto talk about the parts of Antigua that a tourist wouldn’t notice or understand. The corruption, the dilapidated schools and hospitals, the places that the Black Antiguans are not allowed. The club houses, the government buildings, certain beaches. She delves into the history of Antigua and how the British shaped the island and the long-lasting impact of colonisation.

I think having an essay that’s full of dark humour as well as hard-hitting truth’s that are full of anger, is a really effective way to describe what a country and its people are like, and how slavery, segregation, and now tourism can affect them. It makes this place, this ten-by-twelve-mile island, and its history easy to understand and it also makes you think. Especially as it goes into the effects of tourism on the country, how there are certain things tourists are blind to like political corruption and how people’s homes and communities are not at all like the fancy hotels a tourist may stay in.

A Small Place also has autobiographical elements of Jamaica Kincaid’s childhood. She recounts the experience of having an Irish schoolteacher, the casual racism she and her classmates experienced without being able to put the word “racism” towards it as European rule or influence had been so prevalent on the island.

A Small Place was written in 1988 so things may have changed a bit for Antiguans over the past thirty years but then again, it may have not with the prevalence of racism and corruption in the world. A Small Place is a great insight into how colonialism can affect such a small nation and how tourism can be just as harmful when the best land and the most money goes towards tourism-related endeavours rather than the communities. 4/5.

REVIEW: Bloodshot (2020)

After he and his wife are murdered, Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) wakes up with no memories, having been resurrected and enhanced by a team of scientists. The nanotechnology in his blood makes him a super soldier and near indestructible. But as flashes of what happened to his wife come back to him, he seeks revenge, not realising that there might be more to his resurrection than he was led to believe.

Bloodshot is an action/sci-fi film that doesn’t quite now if it wants to be cheesy and fun or overly serious. Vin Diesel is his usual growly self. Is decent in the fight sequences and does a good job at being confused when needed. The supporting cast are pretty fun, with them all fitting the usual tropes. After Ray wakes up, he meets Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), the scientist who saved and enhanced him, along with other former military personal who have been given a new lease of life by Harting’s technology.

KT (Eiza González) is the former soldier that gets the most development and appears to have more of a moral integrity than the others. There are small moments with her that make you start to suspect there’s something more going on. Alas those moments are small because the answers are given far too quickly.

There is some intrigue to be had in Bloodshot but unfortunately due to the script being chockfull of exposition – honestly some characters just monologue on their motivations or backstory at the drop of a hat – the intrigue comes to nothing. It’s like the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience was smart enough to pay attention to some pretty big cues and to puzzle together what was happening themselves. Instead, anytime there seemed to be a moment where new information was being revealed, it was explained almost straightaway.

The action and special effects with the nanotechnology are pretty good. There’s an action sequence in a tunnel that really stands out. The action is contained to a small area and it really showcases the power Ray has at his fingertips. It’s also lit by red flares and the smoke and powder everywhere along with the dramatic score and slow-motion shots, makes it an aesthetically pleasing sequence.

That being said, another action scene stands out for the wrong reasons. There’s an action/chase sequence that’s supposed to be taking part in London, but it is so clearly not in London that it’s completely jarring. It doesn’t even look like the characters are in the UK anymore as they run down side streets and encounter police cars that look nothing like UK police cars. At a guess, I’d say it was filmed in a Mediterranean country because the houses and shops in the UK look nothing like the ones in that sequence.

The concept of Bloodshot is interesting and while the majority of the action sequences are well shot and engaging, the actual plot doesn’t live up to its potential. 2/5.

While I’ve included the trailer like I always do, I’d not recommend watching it as it gives away the majority of the twists and turns in Bloodshot.

READ THE WORLD – Djibouti: Passage of Tears by Abdourahman A. Waberi

Translated by David and Nicole Ball.

Djibril, a young Djiboutian voluntarily exiled in Montreal, returns to his native land to prepare a report for an American economic intelligence firm. Meanwhile, a shadowy, threatening figure imprisoned in an island cell seems to know Djibril’s every move.

I’m not sure what to make of this book to be perfectly honest. It’s a whole mixture of genres and I’m not sure that works a lot of the time. There are elements of a spy novel, of epistolary novel with Djibril’s notes on his findings in Djibouti, and of political thriller and crime fiction.

Djibril has returned to his home country about fifteen years after he left and made a life for himself in Canada. He’s had little to no contact with his family in all that time. Now back in Djibouti, he’s researching the political landscape for his firm as it’s an area of strategic importance for the transportation of the world’s oil supply.

There are little insights into what Djibouti and its people are like, however at the same time it feels like it could be any impoverished country. Djibril reflects on what the country was like when he was growing up and what he’s seeing now, but it’s written by and for someone who already knows the place. I’m not saying every book that’s set in a different country to my own needs to give a lot of descriptions or back story, but having gone into Passage of Tears knowing nothing about of Djibouti, it feels a shame that I have learnt nothing about the country – or at least nothing that has stuck with me.

I think it’s Passage of Tears’ writing style that I struggled with. The chapters alternate between Djbril’s point of view where his thoughts often jump back and forth between what he’s looking into now for his company, and his childhood memories, and an unnamed person who is imprisoned and appears to be talking to the reader, or Djibril. As the story progresses you can piece together who the imprisoned person is likely to be, but he too starts to go onto different tangents and it’s hard to focus in on the present narrative and what is supposed to be happening in this meandering plot. Extracts of writing about Walter Benjamin appear in the imprisoned man’s section and Walter Benjamin is a name I recognised but didn’t know who he was so that was a bit confusing as well, especially when towards the end of the book, half of each chapter seemed to be about him, not what’s currently happening in Djibouti.

I think they’re themes in Passage of Tears, but they often seemed muddled due to the characters voices not being strong. Themes of the effects of post-colonialism, terrorism and globalisation are there but the only one that really stood out is how America has historically meddled in so many countries history’s and politics that it’s no wonder there’s reactionary action from extremist groups.

Overall for such a reasonably short book (just over 200 pages), Passage of Tears was a drag to read a lot of the time and didn’t have characters that were easy to engage with.