REVIEW: Logan (2017)

My original review of Logan from when it was released four years ago.

In the future where mutants are nearly extinct, an old and weary Logan (Hugh Jackman) leads a quiet life, trying to keep himself and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) out of harm’s way. When Laura (Dafne Keene), a young mutant who’s more like him than he first realises, comes to him for help Logan reluctantly tries to get her to safety.

Logan is a lot more real and grounded compared to the previous X-Men films. There’s no spandex and there’s fewer powers on show. This is a Logan and Charles who are both old and frail in different ways, who have seen are lot and are weary with the world – though Charles has more hope than Logan.

Putting aside the superpowered side effects of Charles’ illness, how he acts is very true to life in terms of people with Alzheimer’s or dementia. He sometimes doesn’t remember Logan, he has mood swings, he doesn’t always remember what he’s previously said or done. It’s sad anyway but seeing Patrick Stewart play Charles Xavier, a man we’ve previously seen to always be in control of his mind and just about any situation not being able to manage the simplest of tasks just goes to show how long and hard a life these characters have had.

The action in Logan is brutal. Logan isn’t as strong as he once was, and he doesn’t heal as fast, but he can still stab and slash at bad guys when needed. Laura, on the other hand, has a tonne of energy and is vicious as she takes down the men who want to take her. There’s blood and screams and limbs are torn from bodies as well as a few decapitations too. It’s rough but it is well suited to the characters of Wolverine and X-23 and I think we’re lucky we’ve seen the full extent of what these characters can do when the film’s rating isn’t an issue.

Logan is an incredibly satisfying end to Wolverine’s story (or at least Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of him). There’s some humour and hope in amongst this dreary and hard world these characters now live and Jackman and Stewart’s performances and chemistry are both phenomenal and, at times, can bring you to tears.

Logan is a sombre, personal story about two weary men trying to save one girls life and for her to have a life better than there’s. Logan is the perfect swansong for the character and for Hugh Jackman who has made the role his own over all these years and films. It really is a drama with comic book elements rather than being a full-on typical superhero movie and it really works as that. 5/5.

Reflections on the A-Z Challenge 2021 Edition

Another April gone and another A-Z in April Challenge completed!

This was my eighth year taking part in the A-Z Challenge and I really enjoyed writing my posts. I was pretty organised this year though I did spend some weekends writing like seven posts, but it all worked out OK. I do really enjoy writing about characters I love, I find it relatively easy to gush about them and it’s fun to share my love of various characters that might be from lesser-known films or shows. It’s hard to choose which posts were my favourite to write but I’ve got to give shoutouts to my posts on Leïto, Johnny Lawrence, and Elizabeth Sloane – those three characters pretty much cover the main characteristics of characters I tend to love.

My stats were great in April and I received more views and visitors last month than the last two April A-Z Challenges I’ve taken part in so thank you so much to everyone who stopped by to view by A-Z posts, liked them and/or commented. I haven’t quite got round to responding to every comment yet, but I do read every single one and I really do appreciate them.

I definitely had phases where I’d be really good at seeking out blogs or visiting ones who’d visited mine. There’d be the odd day or evening where blog hopping was all I did after work! There’s still more blog I’d like to visit and I’m going to do my best to make time for that in the coming weeks.

My most popular posts from this year’s challenge were Kaz Brekker by a mile (I definitely think the Shadow and Bone show being released a week or so after my post probably helped with that), Sally Owens, Rose Tyler, and Poe Dameron. Also for some reason, posts from previous year’s challenges where I talked about my favourite characters made an appearance and Carol Danvers and Pepper Potts were quite popular last month.

I always muse on whether or not I’ll take part in the A-Z Challenge next year but this year I’ve pretty much decided I will. I’ve decided that I want to do the A-Z Challenge for ten years in a row and I have two more years to go. I’m not sure what the themes will be for those next two years, but I’ve got plenty of time to figure that out.

I hope all of you who took part in the challenge had fun and a successful A-Z in April. Thanks to those who stopped by my blog and liked or commented – it always means a lot. For more information on the A-Z in April Challenge visit the website.

READ THE WORLD – Turkmenistan: The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar

Translated by W.M. Coulson.

After industrialists convince a village of fishermen and their families on the coast of the Caspian Sea, they start to make plans to move to the city. All but one, Araz refuses to leave and give up his ancestral home and his trade of being a fisherman. As tensions rise between Araz and the elderly fishermen, the ghost of Aypi, a woman betrayed and murdered by her husband and her village, begins to exact revenge on the villagers.

The Tale of Aypi is such a strange little story. It’s one that starts out relatively simple but then becomes a story that’s laced with mystery and magic as it becomes difficult to tell what is and isn’t real.

There’s a lot of true to life problems Araz and the other fisherman are facing. The majority of them have come to terms with the fact they are being forcibly relocated, and many of them are starting to see it as a necessity in order to keep connected to their children and grandchildren, as their city-living is so different to village life. Araz is like a one man protest as even his wife is looking to the future outside the village, even though she wouldn’t tell him that. The way Araz is almost abducted by the police so corrupt officials can hold and intimidate him to try and get him to agree to move from the village is very uncomfortable but also almost funny as Araz has such a strong sense of purpose he refuses to move.

Then there’s the ghost of Aypi. The way she interacts with the village and its people is interesting. It’s like she changes shape depending on who she is trying to influence or torment, and the thin line between real and imaginary is always there. Sometimes she’s a physical presence, she can be seen by the villagers and have conversations with them, while there’s other times where she attacks them in a fit of rage and they see a sandstorm. Then there’s also the blurring between dreams and reality where thing’s happen before someone wakes up and is unsettled by the whole encounter.

Aypi’s rage is certainly justified, and she offers some interesting ideas on the roles of men and women and their relationship in society. How what both men and women want has changed so men are more interested in finding foreign wives to fit in their strict moulds as the local women are striving for something else. There are some impactful lines like: “Women’ve lost their natural personality, and men’ve become too submissive and they can’t take it anymore.”

The Tale of Aypi is odd and melancholy as so many characters in this story have sad or hard lives. While many of the villagers have decided to give in and move, it’s clear that they won’t have it easy when they’re in the city as their attitudes are so different to people from the city. The Tale of Aypi is a story of community and cultural clash. The inclusion of Aypi the vengeful spirit is sometimes hard to follow as she often goes from being an almost solid person to some sort of spirit who isn’t connect to anything. Still, The Tale of Aypi is a compelling story and at less than 200 pages it packs in a lot of thoughts and ideas into it.

REVIEW: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

My original X-Men: Apocalypse review from when it was first released.

Ten years after the Washington incident, mutants are known to the world. When En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac), who is believed to be the world’s first mutant, resurfaces Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his X-Men must unite to save the world from destruction.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about X-Men: Apocalypse. I feel like it’s the epitome of a mixed bag. There are some things I really liked but there are a lot that I really didn’t. Let’s start with the good.

The crop of new characters (or younger versions of characters we already know) are fun and it’s nice to see their dynamics. There are hints of the extent of Jean’s (Sophie Turner) powers and a young Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) is suitable bashful and cocky as he tries to come to terms with his new powers. Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is some comedic relief but the full extent of how visually impressive his powers are (as seen in X2) is never truly realised and he’s used to just ferry around people to move the plot along.

Evan Peters returns as Peter Maximoff and while how his parentage is revealed (or not) is very annoying, Peter as a character is one of the best things in this film. He’s so much fun and brightens every scene he’s in. There’s once again a sequence that shows his powers to their fullest and it’s got another great song accompanying it. Honestly, this film would’ve been over at the halfway point if Peter hadn’t shown up.

Now for the not so good. Michael Fassbender returns as Magneto and his performance is still great and is still one of the best casting decisions in this franchise. However, the decision to have Magneto destroy Auschwitz seems insensitive at best and that scene is just uncomfortable to watch. Having four costumed superpowered people just standing in there seemed weird to begin with and while mutants are an allegory for minority groups and Magneto is Jewish it just seems like a sequence that shouldn’t have gotten past the script drafting stages.

En Sabah Nur aka Apocalypse is such a bland and generic villain. He’s big on the monologues and he’s not particularly intimidating either. Oscar Isaac is wasted in the role and to be honest anyone could have been under all those prosthetics and make up and the performance would have hardly changed.

There’s a whole segment where Colonel William Stryker (Josh Helman) makes an appearance and captures some of our heroes that feels out of place when you think about it too much. It’s really just there to give Jean, Scott and Nightcrawler something to do and to facilitate a big cameo. The reasons why Stryker has taken them are paper thin and it does just seem like a way for the heroes to get a plane and some cool battle suits. There could have been another way to achieve those things and shave twenty minutes off the films runtime while doing so.

X-Men: Apocalypse is a bit of a mess really. The final battle is exciting, the ways various characters fight one another with their powers is always cool to watch, and the film does end on a good note with the formation of the X-Men, but the dialogue is often terrible and anything but subtle, and with a one-dimensional villain it feels like the threat to the world is there just because the characters told you it is. 2/5.

Asian Readathon TBR

In May in the United States it is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and in honour of that Cindy from WithCindy on YouTube created a readathon where the main aim is to read books by Asian authors. I think this is the second or third year of the readathon, but this is the first time I’m participating. Her announcement video explains it all really well and she also has a Google Doc with extra info and resources and there’s a Twitter account for the readathon too.

There are five challenges in this readathon and any amount of them can be combined to make things easier for yourself:
– Read any book written by an Asian author.
– Read any book featuring an Asian protagonist.
– Read any book written by an Asian author in your favourite genre.
– Read any nonfiction book written by an Asian author.
– Read any book written by an Asian author that’s not US-centric.

There is a twist to combining the prompts though. You can combine challenges and read in any order; however, each book you read should feature a character or author of a different Asian ethnicity. This is to encourage cultural diversity. Books by Chinese, Korean, and Japanese authors do tend to be more common or popular here in the UK, so I think this is a great way to encourage people to read more diversely. Because like any ethnicity, Asians aren’t one huge monolith.

Thanks to my Read the World Project I’ve already read books from authors from over thirty different Asian countries – in fact I think Asia is the continent I’ve read the most books from. You can check out my Read the World Project masterpost to see all the countries and books I’ve read so far and links to all the reviews.

Like any readathon, my TBR is going to be far too big but I wanted to use this moment to highlight books by authors of different nationalities and backgrounds. I also used this readathon to order some books from both the library and bookshops that I’d been thinking of for a while so some of these haven’t arrived yet and a couple are on my kindle. I’m going to be (hopefully) reading books in all formats for this readathon.

Shepherd of Solitude: Selected Poems by Amjad Nasser, translated by Khaled Mattawa (Jordan)
This is a poetry collection and is the first English collection of Amjad Nasser’s work. The poems are from various collections originally in Arabic published between 1979 – 2004.

Palestine +100 edited by Basma Ghalayini, translated by Raph Cormack, Mohamed Ghalaieny, Andrew Leber, Thoraya El-Rayyes, Yasmine Seale and Jonathan Wright (Palestine)
A collection of short soties from twelve Palestinian writers imagining what their country might be like in the year 2048. These stories are in a whole range of genres including sci-fi, dystopia and farce.

The Silent Steppe: The Story of a Kazakh Nomad under Stalin by Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, translated by Jan Butler (Kazakhstan)
This is a memoir from Mukhamet Shayakhmetov, who was born into a family of nomadic herdsman in 1922, about life under Stalin’s rule.

QuixotiQ by Ali Al Saeed (Bahrain)
I’m not even sure what this book is about. It hasn’t arrived yet and all I’ve got from Waterstones and Goodreads is that it’s about two men whose lives take dramatic turns. It’s also the only book I could find in English by an author from Bahrain.

Armenian Golgotha by Grigoris Balakian, translated by Peter Balakian (Armenia)
A memoir about Grigoris Balakian’s eyewitness account of the Armenian Genocide which happened from 1915-1918.

Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi, translated by Sawad Hussain (Kuwait)
Three friends who share neither ethnic origin nor religious denomination, get involved in a protest group and one of their grandmothers, Mama Hissa, warns them against it.

Mother’s Beloved: Stories from Laos by Outhine Bounyavong (Laos)
This collection of short stories is the first collection of Lao short stories to be published in English. I think this collection has both the English translation and the short stories in the original language and I really like when books do this. This is one I’m waiting to pick up from Waterstones.

The Tale of Aypi by Ak Welsapar, translated by W.M. Coulson (Turkmenistan)
The story of a group of Turkmen fishermen who are trying to save their ancestral home from the ruling powers who are attempting to confiscate their land.

Looking at my books here and the challenges, the only one I’m unsure if I’ll complete is “book written by an Asian author in your favourite genre” mainly because I’m not even sure what my favourite genre is anymore, though I do like some hard-hitting non-fiction which is certainly here so those books could count for that.

Are you taking part in the Asian Readathon? Or do you have any books by Asian authors on your TBR in general? I would love to hear about them.

Z is for Zorro

I’m kind of cheating and having almost a generalisation on the last day of the A-Z in April Challenge – or a title for many characters rather than an individual character in particular. Like how I said I like the Robin Hood stories, I like the story of Zorro for a lot of the same reasons.

As I said in my post about Elena de la Vega, I love The Mask of Zorro. I think it shows how the title of Zorro can be passed down, and highlights what the main qualities of Zorro should be. Alejandro Murrieta is vastly different to Diego de la Vega, the original Zorro, when they first met due to his drinking and grief and anger. Though he is still a bit reckless and impulsive, through Diego’s training, Alejandro becomes a good imitation of a nobleman and a skilled fighter.

A few years ago, I read Zorro by Isabel Allende which is like a retelling/origin story of the legendary Zorro and I enjoyed it a lot. It follows his through child and teen years to his early twenties and the events and relationships that make him into a young man who would become a masked vigilante.

READ THE WORLD – Moldova: The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov

Translated by Ross Ufberg. Narrated by Daniel Thomas May.

Trigger warnings for rape, child trafficking and suicide.

Set in the early 2000s, a group of villagers in Moldova dream of a new life in Italy. They live an impoverished life in Moldova and through any methods they can think of they try to get to Italy where they’ve been told you get paid thousands of euros for just washing dishes.

The Good Life Elsewhere is a strange and funny story. The ways these people attempt to get to Italy become more and more absurd. To begin with there’s the understandable and realistic attempt to cross by paying smugglers who promise to get them across the Italian border and con them out of €4,000 each as it’s revealed that they never left Moldova. From there the attempts get more outrageous and include building both an aeroplane and a submarine out of a tractor.

I think listening to the audiobook helped me take in and understand this story. The narrator does a good job at distinguishing the many characters voices and I think the humour of the various situations came across a lot better than if I was just reading it. Hearing someone tell a funny story is often more entertaining than reading the funny story yourself.

The Good Life Elsewhere follows multiple characters including a man who has been obsessed with Italy since he was a child and has spent years learning the language and a priest who accidentally starts a couple of crusades leading hundreds of people to Italy on foot. There’s also a number of politicians who seem the most realistic out of them all aka could be from a Moldovan version of The Thick of It.

You can almost get emotional whiplash from The Good Life Elsewhere. The antics these villagers get into to try and get to Italy are often ridiculous and amusing but, as the trigger warnings suggest, there’s also a dark underbelly to it all. People who lose everything in their quest to get to Italy take their own lives, and when a woman is repeatedly raped over the course of years, it’s almost like a footnote and there isn’t time to linger on it before the next strange event is discussed. Besides the triggering content, often just after an amusing escapade or attempt to conduct a plan to get to Italy, something suddenly happens that turns to comedic into a tragedy.

The Good Life Elsewhere is an interesting story to consider in terms of European politics and the extreme lengths people will go to, to try and get somewhere they believe will give them a better life. The “fear” of immigrants Italy and Romania seem to have, the way Moldovans have to pay bribes to the police or other officials in order to keep travelling, how people are detained for no reason and have no idea if or when they can continue. It’s all very sad. Moldova joined the EU in 2016, as The Good Life Elsewhere is set in the early 2000s there’s often discussions of the EU, Moldova potentially joining it and what that could mean for the people. Especially as Moldova was once a part of the Soviet Union so there is the stark contrast between what was once a pro-Soviet country and how they almost idealise the West – in this case Italy. It really is weird but interesting how Italy becomes the almost promised land to these people, and how a whole village becomes enamoured with it.

The Good Life Elsewhere is equal parts tragedy and comedy. It’s satirical and odd and often unbelievable, but even today thousands of people travel from their homeland, risking death in the hope of where they end up might provide a better life for them and their loved ones, so it’s not totally unbelievable. It just pushes everything to the extreme.

Y is for Yzma

This is definitely a cheat post.

For the life of me, I could not think of a character whose first or last name began with a Y and that it was a character I loved, and I hadn’t used before in previous A-Z in April Challenge’s. So, I took to Google and that’s what led me to Yzma.

I’m not totally lying as I do like Yzma. The Emperor’s New Groove is such a odd and funny film and she has some of the best moments in it. Yzma is power-hungry, malicious and funny. She’s a political advisor and chemist so she’s smart but she’s also very dramatic so her plans are often far more complicated than they need to be.

I besides the interesting look and animation of Yzma, the reason she is such a memorable and fun character is because of Eartha Kitt’s performance. Her raspy voice and wit just shine through and she really nails that slightly manic edge Yzma has.

X is for Xtras

I’m sure like many people who do the A-Z in April Challenge, I often really struggle with the letter X. I’ve previously had Charles Xavier when I wrote about favourite characters before but as I don’t want any repeats, I’m cheating and just sharing a few favourite characters that didn’t quite make the cut for their own post.

Steve Harrington
My all-out favourite from Stranger Things. I love his growth as a character and even when he was a bit of a bully towards Jonathan in the first season, he realised his mistakes and went to apologise and became a great monster hunter. I love how protective Steve is of the kids, how he’ll always put himself in harms way to stop others getting hurt (he really needs to be checked for any brain injuries) and that while he’s not academically smart, he picks on things up others don’t.

Jaylah
Star Trek Beyond is my favourite Star Trek film and is generally one of my favourite films. Jaylah is a brilliant character and I love how she fits in with the crew of the Enterprise. She’s a fierce fighter, she’s a smart engineer, and though she’s scared of what they have to face thanks to her traumatic childhood, she is brave enough to stare down her demons and finds a new family with the crew.

Jesper Fahey
Jesper was already one of my favourite characters from Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom but having finished (and loved) the Shadow and Bone TV show, I love him even more. He is funny and charming and brave, and he is such a good friend. There’s a moment when a friend asks him to kill someone for her and his response is “Ugh why me? But OK.” because that’s just how he is. He has a gambling problem which often leads him to get into scrapes so it’s a good job his such a fantastic shot – honestly how they showed his guns skills in the show was so cool.

Elizabeth Swann
I still believe the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy are brilliant and The Curse of the Black Pearl is a fantastic film. I love how Elizabeth evolves as a person over the course of the films though still stays the same adventurous and quick-witted person she always was. She’s brave but sometimes reckless, caring but sometimes harsh – she’s one of the most interesting characters in that franchise. I also love how she becomes such a great sword fighter, pirate, and the Pirate King.

W is for Will Scarlett

I really like the story of Robin Hood and pretty much any iteration of it. The whole stealing from the rich to give to the poor and people to coming together thing are tropes or themes that I love. Like the story, I tend to really like Will Scarlett in any version.

My favourite Robin Hood adaptation is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and that has my favourite Will Scarlett. What I love about this Will Scarlett here is his attitude and his backstory.

Personality-wise, Will is impulsive and cocky and jealous. Not really the nicest qualities but he’s also pretty charming and a skilled fighter. Plus, when you learn his backstory his attitude towards Robin makes so much sense as it’s easy to understand where all his resentment came from. I especially like how once Robin knows Will is his younger half-brother, he wants to protect him and not put him in danger, and Will’s like “You shot me in the hand, I think you don’t get to tell me what’s dangerous.”

The dynamics between Will and the other Merry Men are great but it’s that push and pull relationship he has with Robin, both before and after everyone knows they’re brothers that’s really fun.