My film year in review and my film-related goals of 2023

In 2022 I was very chill about film-watching and didn’t make myself watch things like the awards buzzy films just to keep in the loop (which was one of my goals last year!). I do think my whole procrastinating/mindless scrolling through social media did possibly have an affect on my film-watching like it did my reading at times though. I did also re/watch Doctor Who from Christopher Eccleston to the end of Jodie Whitaker’s era (I kind of stopped watching when the Ponds left and didn’t start again until the middle of Thirteen’s run) which took me six months so watching a couple of episodes of Doctor Who took the same time as watching a film might’ve.

In total I watched 177 different films, about 40 of which were rewatches. I said 2021 was the year I’d watched the least films but turns out 2022 now beats that which I’m OK with as I still watched a lot of good films, including these which made my Favourite Films of 2022 list. I still do enjoy watching films, whether they’re the latest blockbuster or something more obscure that I’m only watching because there’s an actor I like in it, but it’s nice not to put any pressure on myself to hit an arbitrary number or anything. I did see 45 different films at the cinema which was more than I expected because unlike previous years I didn’t really spend many Saturday’s at the cinema watching two or more films in a row like I used to. Again, I think this is a sign of me being choosier over what I want to watch rather than going to the cinema just for the sake of it. I did have an unlimited card which meant for about £16 a month I could see as many films as I like but I don’t think I was using it to its full potential as I used to so I cancelled it. I did get a similar card for a cinema that’s a lot closer to me (as in less than a 10-minute walk away) so I can go see a film at like 6pm after work and walk there rather than having a 30 minutes’ drive to the cinema.

I completed my 52 Films by Women challenge for both directors and writers again this year which I’m always happy about. Though it wasn’t intentionally I did like how only one of the films directed by women was a rewatch – which was of course, Mamma Mia! (more…)

My TBR as 2023 begins

As a new year begins so does all the grand ideas for goals and challenges – whether they’re to do with big life changes or more simple things like reading. I will be sharing a review of my 2022 reading goals and what my goals are for 2023 next week. In the meantime, as it’s been a while (late 2020 in fact) since I shared my complete TBR, thought I’d kick of 2023 with that. Especially as I’ve yet to pick up a book this year.

This list is divided between the physical books, the audiobooks and ebooks I own. The physical books will probably be the main priority going forward as I really am running out of space but all that talk will come next week.

I’d love to hear if you’d recommend any of these books and which ones should move to the top of my TBR. (more…)

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Favourite Books of 2022

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. It’s the first Tuesday of 2023 so that’s the perfect time to take a look back at what we read in 2022 and share our favourites of the year. These are in no particular order but they are all books that I gave 5 stars this year and really enjoyed for different reasons. If I wrote one, I’ll link to my review of these books.

Blood, Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road by Kyle Buchanan
I love Mad Max: Fury Road so a book about how that amazing film was made was always going to be on my radar. I really loved this book and read it in two sittings. It’s so interesting and in-depth about filmmaking and how the production of Fury Road was unlike the productions many of the people interviewed had ever been a part of. If you’re interested in filmmaking at all, I’d recommend this book because it’s just fascinating and a really engaging read.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
I love the world in the Gentlemen Bastards series and Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are the bestest best friends I’ve read in forever. The audiobooks in this series are excellent too

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
The audiobook for this was great and it was fun having an historical and scientific twist on something as fantastical as dragons. I would like to carry on with the series but as I’m putting together my 2023 reading goals, I have a fair few series on the go so not sure when I’d actually get to it.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas
I’m always slightly hesitant about reading a prequel to a book I loved a lot but I shouldn’t have doubted Angie Thomas. Concrete Rose is a great backstory to Starr’s father and the world he grew up in and then moved away from in order to do the best for his children.

An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie
I finished my Read the World Project this year and this was my favourite book I read for that project this year. How determined Kpomassie was to travel from Togo to Greenland, crossing Europe and taking just about every form of transportation, is to be admired, and then how he writes about the culture clashes and the things he learnt from his time in Greenland was so interesting.

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Portrait of a Thief is full of the heist tropes I love (and has many Fast and Furious references), great characters, and is all about culture, art and belonging. I really liked how it talked about how museums in the West get the art that’s in them and who the art really belongs to.

Slade House by David Mitchell
I’m a wuss but I do like a spooky ghost story and how this one is a series of short stories across the decades about one house was really creepy and clever.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven was so good! A grown-up magical story which includes intersectional feminism and complicated friendship dynamics. Loved every character point of view and there were some twists and turns I did not expect.

Himself by Jess Kidd
Himself was one of the first books I read in 2022 and it’s stuck with me all year. It’s a small-town ghost story/mystery that’s very atmospheric and magical but it also manages to have a pretty wry sense of humour too.

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Listening to the audiobook narrated by author Reni Eddo-Lodge made Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race all the more impactful. It put into words some of the things I’d been thinking or heard bits about before and just made the puzzle pieces fit together in my brain.

Have you read any of these books? What were your favourite books you read in 2022?

My favourite films of 2022

As a new year begins it’s time to look back at the favourites of the year. These films are all pretty different but they were all films I enjoyed and made me laugh and/or cry or just made me feel big emotions.

RRR
Films like this is the reason why I don’t put together “favourites of the year” lists until right at the end of the year, or at the very beginning of the next because I watched RRR towards the end of December and if I’d already put together a favourites list then it wouldn’t have made it on the list. RRR is big and bombastic and it’s just a load of fun with fantastic songs and dance numbers.

Fire Island
Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite classics so I tend to have a soft spot for any retellings and Fire Island was so much fun! It’s so funny and gay and clever and a top tier Jane Austen retelling. It’s so fun, has big romcom moments and the found family trope I love so much and Conrad Ricamora is a perfect awkward Mr Darcy.

The Woman King
The Woman King is a stunning film on every level. The whole cast is brilliant and I got goosebumps multiple times due to the action, score, and performances.

Language Lessons
I love all these films on this list but this might be my favourite. Language Lessons gave me all the emotions and I loved how it was a story about the power of friendship and the power of human connection no matter the distance.

Plan B
It’s kind of a shame that there is now so many films about women’s struggle to get reproductive healthcare and nearly every one of them gets me in a different way. My favourite of this unfortunate subgenre is Plan B, directed by Natalie Morales, the director and co-writer of Language Lessons. It’s so funny and the ride or die friendship at the core of it is excellent and how the parents are surprisingly awesome too really sealed it as a favourite.

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Everything Everywhere All at Once is weird and funny and action-packed and heartfelt and beautiful and wonderful. I didn’t know what to expect when I watched it (had just heard positive buzz but had no real idea what it was about) and just wow. Truly a special film and the whole cast is outstanding.

Top Gun: Maverick
Considering I wasn’t fussed about the original Top Gun (it’s fine but I didn’t get the hype), I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Top Gun: Maverick. I think one of the reasons I loved it so much is it’s part of my favourite subgenre of film – people being really competent at their jobs. It’s just so satisfying.

Confess, Fletch
I’m so pleased I got to see this film in the cinema. It’s proper old-school and charming in the best way. It’s a fun and clever mystery with a load of twists and a wonderful lead in Jon Hamm. I definitely think this favourite is probably the most underseen on this list.

The Banshees of Inisherin
I’m a big Martin McDonagh-fan so there was always a good chance I’d like his latest film but I really liked The Banshees of Inisherin. It’s funny and sad and kinda depressing at times – the dark humour is in full force – and the whole cast is incredible and I’d love for Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon to get all the awards.

Prey
I’m well-known for being a wuss but I can just about handle Predator movies and Prey is a fantastic prequel. The tension and scares are great and having it focused on a female tracker and how the “less-advanced” technology goes up against this alien creature was interesting and thrilling.

What were some of your favourite films of the past year?

REVIEW: Poster Girl by Veronica Roth

What’s right is right. Sonya Kantor knows this slogan – she lived by it for most of her life. For decades, everyone in the Seattle-Portland megalopolis lived under it, as well as constant surveillance in the form of the Insight, an ocular implant that tracked every word and every action, rewarding or punishing by a rigid moral code set forth by the Delegation. Then there was a revolution. The Delegation fell. Its most valuable members were locked in the Aperture, a prison on the outskirts of the city. And everyone else, now free from the Insight’s monitoring, went on with their lives. Sonya, former poster girl for the Delegation, has been imprisoned for ten years when an old enemy comes to her with a deal: find a missing girl who was stolen from her parents by the old regime, and earn her freedom. The path Sonya takes to find the child will lead her through an unfamiliar, crooked post-Delegation world where she finds herself digging deeper into the past – and her family’s dark secrets – than she ever wanted to.

I’m not one who often comments on the writing style in a book so it has to be pretty bad or pretty different for me to notice it – I tend to be more focused on characters and how the story makes me feel. Veronica Roth has written a few adult books since her YA dystopian juggernaut series Divergent (which I read over a decade ago) but Poster Girl is the first I’ve read. I have to say, I did have to check a couple of times to see if Poster Girl was supposed to be YA or adult as the writing style is quite simplistic and it felt more like a YA story. Also, Sonya herself felt juvenile at times. Perhaps this was intentional as she was put in prison when she was a teenager and so has simultaneously been forced to grow up but everything in her life also stopped for the past ten years so she hasn’t matured in other ways. Either way, Sonya often felt younger than someone in her mid-late twenties.

It was interesting seeing how a society moved on after being a dystopian one for so long. So often dystopian stories are about the rise of the people and overthrowing the corrupt government and they end once they’ve succeeded in doing that. Having Poster Girl set ten years after the revolution was interesting as you could see how some characters attitudes have changed and how others were still stuck overthinking everything as they were so used to having an implant in their brain that automatically quantified if something they said or did was worthy of reward or punishment.

There is a romance element that is underdeveloped and just feels like it was added for the sake of having a romance subplot and added nothing to the overall story or to Sonya’s character. It’s kind of enemies-to-lovers but the transition from reluctant allies to lovers is far too rushed and there’s little chemistry when it comes to the romance side of things. I preferred the mistrust and jabs Sonya and her former acquaintance had before they started to be on the same page.

The case of the stolen child that Sonya is tasked with finding has its moments but the mystery isn’t particularly compelling and some of the twists can be guessed from a mile off. I think that is the crux of the problem with Poster Girl. While it is a pretty quick read at less than 300 pages, the case doesn’t have enough tension and Sonya isn’t that interesting as a character either. While the setting is a good and intriguing starting point, the story isn’t memorable or event that satisfying because so much was predictable. 2/5.

REVIEW: RRR (2022)

After a young girl is taken from her village by the British Governor (Ray Stevenson) at the whim of his wife, the village’s protector, Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), sets out to find her and bring her home. As the Governor’s life is deemed to be threatened, loyal and almost unstoppable police officer Raju (Ram Charan Teja) is put on the case to find and stop this protector.

In some ways I don’t want to say much about RRR because it’s a feel that defies explanation and it’s all the better for it. Considering I’d heard nothing but good things about RRR on social media, I didn’t really know what it was about (besides being anti-British/colonial rule and having bonkers set pieces) so everything was a wonderful surprise and I want everyone to be able to experience this film like that.

RRR is a three-hour historical epic but it’s one of those rare long films where not a single minute is wasted and I never found myself bored or thinking that the story was dragging. RRR is also a musical, an action film, a drama, and a romance and all those elements come together so well and sometimes in unexpected ways. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a three-hour film that was so fun, engaging and thrilling.

The action and set pieces really are astounding. Every big moment would be a standout in any film but this one has like seven of them – it truly is impressive. What makes the set pieces so good is that they’re all grounded in the characters. It makes the drama and stakes more tangible as well as just being highly entertaining.

Really though, the thing I loved most about RRR is the two main characters and their friendship. RRR is truly one of those power-of-friendship kind of movies and the tension of knowing that Bheem and Raju are on opposite sides but have so much in common is so good. The actors are fantastic and their chemistry is excellent and their friendship, and everything it goes through over the course of them film is just the best.

RRR really is something special and is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s fun and bombastic and at the same time has a really important story about Britain and India’s past and the harm that the British did and the strength it took to fight back against it. 5/5.

REVIEW: John Dies at the End by David Wong

Normally I’d give a general overview of the book I’m reviewing, whether that’s what’s on the blurb of the book or my own synopsis, but with John Dies at the End I’m not really sure I can. The blurb is weird and vague and gives now real information except warnings not to read the book, but now that you’ve picked it up bad things are going to happen and you can’t unlearn the fact there’s an “otherwordly invasion currently threatening to enslave humanity”. So needless to say, going into John Dies at the End I really did not know what to expect. I will say it’s about two friends, John and David (the book is from his perspective and parts of it has him recounting events of the book to a reporter), and how they can see things that aren’t there and go on adventures as they try and figure out what’s going on.

Even though I’ve now read John Dies at the End, I still can’t describe it. It’s a weird, creepy horror story with paranormal elements and drug-induced psychoses and a dog that’s perhaps immortal. At this point I’m not even sure I really liked it but there was something about it that was super compelling and kept me reading. Perhaps it’s because so much strange and/or unsettling things were happening all the time so I ended up feeling like I was just going along for the ride and was waiting to see what on Earth was going to happen next – and if anything was ever really explained.

There were some answers but not enough for me and the answers we did get often led to more questions. There’s so many moments when characters aren’t sure they can believe what they’re seeing and as this is being told from David’s point of view, you end up doubting things too. It’s really quite the strange reading experience.

I think I preferred the first third of John Dies at the End, mainly because that really set the scene in terms of the creepiness with horrifying creatures and the general unnerving feeling of something not being right. While I knew John Dies at the End was classed as a horror story, the kind of weirdness and horror it had was so unexpected that it was more shocking and interesting to begin with. There’s also a time skip about a third of the way though and I’m generally not a fan of time skips so that didn’t really do much for me, especially as the first third was so action-packed and interesting. As John Dies at the End is a 460-page book, variations of the same weirdness did get a bit repetitive over time and I did find the last 100 pages or so a bit more of a drag even though more and more things were being revealed.

Character-wise David seems to be a bit of a spectator to his own life and gets dragged into this situation by John and though he’s pretty resourceful, a lot of it comes down to dumb luck. The same can be said for John but pretty much everything that came out of John’s mouth was cringe-inducing as it often revolved around his penis or making himself seem more strong/smart/skilled than he was. These two guys are just average twenty-somethings and so there is the internet-related, kinda gross boys’ humour that you might expect which at times I did find myself skimming over.

John Dies at the End was an interesting reading experience. As I said, I preferred the beginning when it was all new and unexpected (one of the first sequences inside a supposedly haunted house was genuinely suspenseful and surprising) and as the plot progresses it gets more and more wild which some may love while others may find ridiculous – I was on the fence about it. I didn’t like John but being in David’s head wasn’t so bad and his sense of imagination really did paint a vivid picture when it came to some of the creatures they encountered or horrifying (and sometimes really gross) situations they found themselves in. 3/5.

REVIEW: Violent Night (2022)

When a team of mercenaries, led by a man with the codename Scrooge (John Leguizamo), take a wealthy family hostage with plans to steal the fortune from their vault, they encounter unexpected resistance from Santa Claus (David Harbour) who was making his rounds when the family mansion came under attack.

Violent Night is kind of exactly what you’d expect and it does what it sets out to do and does it well. A Santa who’s disillusioned by Christmas and how children just seem to want money or video games, gets caught up in a home invasion and fights to take down the bad guys and save the family – some members of which you wouldn’t necessarily mind if they didn’t make it out of this situation alive.

Violent Night does the feuding/dysfunctional family thing really well. The majority of the family members are self-absorbed and bordering on narcissistic and the saving grace is young Trudy (Leah Brady) and her mother Linda (Alexis Louder). It’s Trudy’s connection to Santa that brings a surprisingly emotional heart to the film as she’s the only one who still believes in him and her being so nice and caring starts to make him believe in the good of others again.

The Father Christmas lore in Violent Night is pretty cool. His naughty or nice list and his sack full of presents are both inventive and how he gets up and down a chimney is especially cool. While Violent Night is obviously a Santa takes down bad guys film, it’s nice to see that the charm or magic of Father Christmas isn’t lost.

David Harbour is great as a jaded Santa who starts taking down bad guys almost by accident. The fight sequences are well-shot, innovative and fun, and the violence is pretty bloody and gory at times too. Definitely the kind of stuff that makes you grimace even when you’re also laughing at the mercenaries misfortunes. The action and comedy balance well and there’s some wonderfully dark Christmas-related puns.

With brutal fights, some fun booby traps, and the fact that throughout all the carnage Violent Night still manages to retain the general spirit of Christmas, it could well go on to become a Christmas cult classic as it executes its simple premise well. 3/5.

REVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

In the wake of King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) must lead the people of Wakanda as they fight to protect their home from outside forces – whether that’s member states of the UN, or the nation of Talokan in the deep depths of the ocean led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta).

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about Wakanda Forever without talking about the passing of Chadwick Boseman and the affect this had on the film. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler incorporated Boseman’s passing into the film and needless to say in the first five minutes I was already getting emotional. This makes Wakanda Forever an almost unique grieving experience. All the characters who knew T’Challa are mourning his passing, and so are the actors playing them, and so are you as you watch this film. It’s easy to imagine that in some of the big emotional scenes, the actors used their grief for their friend and co-worker to fuel their characters grief.

There’s a lot going on in Wakanda Forever with new characters and a new civilisation with a lot of backstory introduced and some aspects were more interesting than others. Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross is back and while his character is somewhat integral to moving the plot forward to begin with, it does kind of feel like the film grinds to a halt every time it leaves Wakanda to see what he’s up to in America. Wakanda Forever is close to three hours long and it’s moments like this that makes you feel the runtime.

The whole cast is incredible but Bassett, Huerta and Letitia Wright are truly standouts. Angela Bassett gives a couple of powerful and emotional monologues and the fact that one is almost soft with her contained rage while the other has her pain over flowing just shows how talented she always has been. Plus, the first happens in the UN in front of a majority white audience while the latter happens in the throne room in Wakanda, infront of the other tribal leaders and her people – once again showing how these characters have to be uniquely aware of their race and power even when they’re from one of the most technologically advanced countries in thise universe.

Namor is such an interesting villain – though really he is more of an antihero – and Huerta is just so compelling that your eyes never leave him whenever he’s on screen. His Namor is principled and loyal but on the flipside, he can be very intimidating and, like the first sequence where the people of Talokan attack, almost frightening. Letitia Wright’s Shuri goes through a lot in this film but she’s truly the emotional centre of Wakanda Forever. She’s trying to combine her love and knowledge of science with the realisation that it wasn’t enough to save her brother and if that’s the case how can she protect her people? Her inner turmoil is fascinating and Wright is phenomenal – pretty much every time I felt myself get teary eyed, it was due to her performance.

One of the many things I really appreciated in Wakanda Forever was that it let emotion and drama sit with you. There are jokes or humorous moments in the film – mostly from Winston Duke’s M’Baku who is still an excellent scene-stealer – but they’re used in a way to ease some tension rather than becoming an almost parody of the MCU joke machine as seen in some other MCU movies recently aka Thor: Love and Thunder.

Black Panther won Oscars for Music, Costume, and Production Design and those same Oscar winners are back for Wakanda Forever and I wouldn’t be surprised if they got awards consideration again. Ludwig Göransson’s score has echoes of familiar themes but also plays on the unknown with Talokan, and both Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler make both Wakanda and Talokan feel so alive with their costumes and set design and when it comes to Wakanda, adds to the history and culture we already know. Both Wakanda and Talokan feel so vast and real because of the costumes, sets and props especially as they’ve incorporated African and Indigenous cultures into it all.

Overall Wakanda Forever is a story about grief. How grief is hard and messy and people deal with it in different ways and some ignore grief until it almost consumes them. It still has its action and the Dora Milaje led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) is still awesome and it’s a thrill seeing so many complex and powerful women on screen, working together. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is definitely my favourite MCU film released this year. 4/5.

REVIEW: Confess, Fletch (2022)

After arriving in Boston to try and find stolen paintings belonging to his Italian girlfriend’s rich father, Fletch (John Hamm) encounters problems straightaway when he finds a murdered young woman in the house he’s renting. With the police convinced he’s the murderer, former-investigative reporter Fletch strives to prove his innocence while simultaneously searching for the missing paintings.

Confess, Fletch is a reboot/adaptation but as I’d never seen, read, or even had heard of the books/films before I saw the trailer for this film, it’s safe to say I took this film on its own merit and have no reference point for it. I think that’s a good thing as Confess, Fletch is an old-school mystery in the best possible way and I had a thoroughly good time with it.

It’s the dry wit and sharp script that makes Confess, Fletch so much fun. There’s so many quips but they never undercut any drama of the moment and Confess, Fletch is the sort of film that rewards you when you give it your full attention. Fletch, as a character, is brilliant. He’s charming, quick-witted and can talk himself out of (or into) just about anything. He’s almost annoying with how smooth and confident he is, but he does it all with a smile so you can’t stay mad at him. It’s easy to see why the two detectives on his case (played by Roy Wood Jr. and Ayden Mayeri) get so frustrated nearly every time they talk to him.

The mystery has a lot of avenues and it’s fun to see how it all plays out and if and how all these eccentric people Fletch encounters are connected at all. John Hamm has great comedic timing and is a brilliant lead here but Confess, Fletch thrives because the supporting cast is just as good. Fletch’s girlfriend Angela (Lorenza Izzo) has a rivalry with her father’s wife (Marcia Gay Harden), then there’s John Slattery playing Fletch’s old boss and Kyle MacLachlan as an art dealer. Everyone has their own eccentricities and agenda and the dialogue between them and Fletch is often top-notch.

The humour in Confess, Fletch comes from the characters and it it’s really a funny and charming film. I’d love to watch many sequels with John Hamm in the lead role as these sort of clever but fun mysteries are truly timeless. I hope I’m wrong but due to the release and lack of promotion I can see Confess, Fletch going the same way as The Nice Guys – a funny mystery that’s ripe for sequels never getting them as it doesn’t find the audience when it’s first released. 4/5.