REVIEW: Snake Eyes (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW: Boss Level (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

READ THE WORLD – Cape Verde: The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio

Translated by Jethro Soutar.

Serrano is an isolated village where a so-called madwoman roams. One day a young woman is found in the forest by Jerónimo and though the villagers are suspicious of this foreigner Jerónimo falls in love with her. When she gives birth and then disappears, Jerónimo raises and loves her daughter who he names Filipa. Years later the two are estranged and as Filipa becomes a business woman in the city, the village of Serrano is under threat by plans to build a dam. As villagers are forced to move, will Jerónimo and Filipa be able to reconnect?

The Madwoman of Serrano is a book that slowly grew on me and the last couple of chapters surprised me when there were some impactful moments there that I wasn’t expecting and actually made me realise how invested I was in some of these characters.

I think what I struggled to begin with with The Madwoman of Serrano was the narrative structure. It bounces between different characters points of view (not that confusing) and different time periods (what did throw me). To begin with there was no mention of Jerónimo and then when he does meet the mysterious woman, after that the time shifts from decades in the future where Filipa is an adult with her own teen daughter, to back when she’s five years old, to when she’s a teenager and back again. Tracking Filipa’s age is one of the only ways I could try and orientate myself. Especially once I realised what was happening because when it went from an adult-Filipa point of view chapter to a Jerónimo point of view I’d think they were in the same time period until there’s mentions of young-Filipa who appears to be mute, still living with Jerónimo in the village.

The village of Serrano are full of people who are not happy and seem to relish in the misfortune of others. They don’t like Filipa when she’s mute, the men of the village judge the women and the women can be mean towards anyone else they see as lesser than. The madwoman, a woman who is probably seen as mad as she’s independent and wise and perhaps a bit magical, lives at the edge of this society. She strikes up a friendship with young Filipa when no one but Jerónimo cares for her, which in turn does make Filipa more shunned as what sane child would spend time with a madwoman.

The Madwoman of Serrano does a good job of showing the toxicity of the small town (or in this case village) mentality, and how the patriarchy can harm the men as well as the women. Though the midwife of the village is the most important figure, men in the village see sex as their right and will beat any woman who refuses for whatever reason.

Some of the characters in the village are so horrible it’s a wonder that someone like Jerónimo manages to be so kind – though he’s not always kind, how he treats his wife is horrible but does feed into how the people of the village, the men especially, never talk about their emotions.

The Madwoman of Serrano is a strangely captivating book once I’d gotten my head around the time jumps. Slowly backstories are revealed and minor events mentioned in passing chapters before suddenly have meaning The Madwoman of Serrano is mostly a story about family, and the family you choose whether that’s friends or adoptive family. There’s also the idea of fate having a hand in characters lives, and there’s the odd unexplainable moment that can only be put down to magic.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Titles or Covers That Made Me Want to Read/Buy the Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. As the title suggests this week it’s all about the book covers or titles that stood out to us and made us either buy them or make a note to check them out later.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn
This is a book I got from a friend who was unhauling a load of books years ago (probably 10 years ago?!). She posted the titles of the books she was getting rid of an this title just leapt out at me and had to claim it. I read it so long ago I can’t really remember anything about it but I do know it was a memoir.

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi.
As I said in my WIT Month TBR post, these two were complete cover buys. I saw The Beast Warrior first as it was on one of those stands in the bookshop and after reading the blurb and realising it was a sequel hunted on the shelves to see if the first book was in stock and luckily it was and it was just as beautiful.

Lost Boi by Sassafras Lowrey
I got this from City Lights bookshop in San Francisco when I was on holiday there. I could’ve spent hours in that shop as there was certainly a lot of treasures to find but this one is what stood out to me. It’s a queer retelling of Peter Pan and was unlike anything I’d read before.

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston
Another cover buy because the naked hardcover was just stunning and I loved how the dust jacket complimented it.

Uprooted by Naomi Novak
I loved the colours and the illustration on this cover. Pity I didn’t like the story inside it so much.

The Secret Fire by C.J. Daugherty and Carina Rozenfeld
This was both a cover buy and a title buy. The title intrigued me and the cover was simple but effective – still haven’t read it yet though.

Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell
This was another cover and title buy. I liked how simple it was and how the colourful silhouette stands out. The title was intriguing too.

Sekret by Lindsay Smith
I found this cover and the font used to be simple but striking. I did try reading Sekret a couple of times but couldn’t get into it so unfortunately, I unhauled it recently. It’s a shame when the cover doesn’t live up to the book inside.

Five Ghosts Vol. 1: The Haunting of Fabian Grey by Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham
One of my favourite cover buys when it comes to comic books. Loved the story and the art style and I’m so pleased this cover caught my eye.

Would any of these book titles or covers have made you want to pick them up?

REVIEW: The Suicide Squad (2021)

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends the latest criminal recruits to Task Force X including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), and Peacemaker (John Cena) to the enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese to complete a mission that no one must know about.

The Suicide Squad is the sort of sequel/reboot of 2016’s Suicide Squad. There are a few characters from the last film in this one, namely Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), but you really don’t need to have seen the previous film in order to watch this one, as while they both have the general premise of a bunch of deadly convicts/supervillains getting sent on a secret mission that’s likely to get a lot of them killed it’s a whole new story.

From the outset it’s clear that the violence in The Suicide Squad is going to be very bloody and gratuitous. The violence is often used to humorous effect but depending on your sense of humour it’ll either get old very quickly or will work for you. The Suicide Squad is a very sweary comedy however personally the jokes didn’t often land, and those that did might’ve elicited a smile rather than a full on laugh out loud moment. The humour is vulgar and weird and sometimes juvenile. It’s also often full of in-jokes and references so if the likes of Deadpool don’t work for you, The Suicide Squad might not either.

The action sequences are often entertaining, especially the one-on-one fights. Harley Quinn rescuing herself is a real highlight and Bloodsport and Peacemaker one-upping each other with kills and quips shows off both Elba’s and Cena’s comedic timing.

What The Suicide Squad does better than its predecessor is making you care about a good proportion of these characters, especially the ones we’ve never seen before, and make you believe that these antisocial characters can actually care about one another in their own ways. A big element of Suicide Squad was when a character suddenly said this “team” was his family – something there had never been any sign of before he actually said it. In The Suicide Squad while it’s hard to say these characters are a family, there are the beginnings of bonds of friendship between certain characters thanks to the dialogue and chemistry between certain actors.

Daniela Melchoir as Ratcatcher 2 is brilliant and she and her pet rat Sebastian almost stole the whole film. They are the softer core of this film and her dynamics with both Bloodsport and Rick Flag are great to watch. Naturally with such a sprawling cast some characters don’t stay around for very long and through them you see just how deadly their mission is. On the flipside of that though, with so many characters with no real introduction as to who they are or even what their skills are, when they do die it’s sometimes hard to care.

The Suicide Squad certainly starts with a bang but that intensity and surprises doesn’t quite last the full runtime. The comedic bits can become grating and while most of the action sequences are entertaining, there’s not enough narrative focus to The Suicide Squad to make it truly memorable and the final showdown just feels rather absurd. Director and writer James Gunn’s signature style of needle drops, witty one-liners and some interesting visuals are all over this film but that does make The Suicide Squad feel like it’s more style over substance. 3/5.

Women in Translation Month 2021 TBR

August is Women in Translation Month, which was started by blogger Meytal Radzinski, and a readathon that I like to take part in. As well as dedicating the whole month to reading books by women in translation there’s also a specific readathon hosted by Jennifer from Insert Literary Pun Here, Matthew Sciarappa and Kendra Winchester over on YouTube.

The Women in Translation readathon is a weeklong from Saturday 14th – Friday 20th August (midnight-midnight in your time zone) and there’s two prompts and a group read. The group read is Minor Detail by Adania Shibli (translated from Arabic by Elisabeth Jaquette) and the prompts are:

  • Read something that’s not a novel – poetry, an essay, manga, short stories, non-fiction, whatever as long as it’s not a novel
  • Read something that was in a language that is new to you – if you do tend to read translated works then think of a language you haven’t read from for a number of years or just have read very few works from that language.

I’d already picked out the books on my TBR that were from women in translation before the prompts were announced, so while all these books are novels, I could maybe complete the “new to you language” prompt as I very rarely read works from Japan and I believe A Spare Life is translated from Macedonian and I don’t think I’ve yet to read anything that was originally in that language.

All these books aren’t just for the weeklong readathon but are instead what I plan to hopefully read during the whole month of August. I’m slowly getting out of my year-long slump and hopefully this gives me a little extra push.

The Beast Player and The Beast Warrior by Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano
These two were cover buys a couple of months ago and how could I not when they are so gorgeous! This is a YA duology about a girl who discovers she can talk to the huge, majestical beasts of her world and becomes entangled in politics and war as she tries to keep herself and the beasts safe.

The Madwoman of Serrano by Dina Salústio, translated by Jethro Soutar
This is one of the books where it seems difficult to summarise in a couple of sentences. The titular character lives in an isolated village where she appears to babble nonsense but maybe she tells the future especially when the life of a man from the village and the businesswoman who he raised when she was a little girl become connected to the fate of their home.

The Madwoman of Serrano was both the first novel by a female author to be published in Cape Verde and the first to be translated into English.

A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska, translated by Christina E. Kramer
Starting in 1984 in communist Yugoslavia, A Spare Life is the story of twins Zlata and Srebra who are conjoined at their heads from their childhood to young adults as they try to decide whether to go through with the dangerous surgery to separate them.

On Friday Night by Luz Argentina Chiriboga, translated by Paulette A. Ramsay and Anne-Maria Bankay
Honestly, I don’t know what this book is about as the back cover is all about the two translators and doesn’t have a blurb. Internet searches tell me that Luz Argentina Chiriboga is known for writing about women and the challenges they face as well as Afro-Hispanic cultural identity so I expect those themes may be in this book.

The Fury and Cries of Women by Angèle Rawiri, translated by Sara Hanaburgh
I have the ebook of this and I believe The Fury and Cries of Women follows Emilienne’s life through her university studies, marriage, children, work, and how she tries to search for what feminism means to her while dealing with cultural expectations and the taboos of sex and motherhood.Angèle Rawiri is Gabon’s first female novelist.

That’s six books written by women in translation that I’d ideally like to read next month. While I do appear to be coming out of my reading slump if I can read at least three of these I’ll be happy. Plus, four of these books are for my Read the World Project which is always helpful.

Are you going to try and read any books from women in translation in August? If you’d like any recommendations then be sure to check out @WITreadathon and @Read_WIT on Twitter.

READ THE WORLD – Chad: Told by Starlight in Chad by Joseph Brahim Seid

Translated by Karen Haire Hoenig.

This very short book, it’s less than 80 pages, contains fourteen short stories.

I found the experience of reading Told by Starlight in Chad really interesting. The writing style is simple and because the stories are the kind that tell the history of a place or a people or are like a fable, even though they weren’t stories I knew, the beats were often familiar. They’re the sort of stories that could’ve been told for generations verbally before being written down as many of them contain some sort of moral or lesson.

There are stories to do with religion, creation, and vengeful gods. There are stories that seem to be based on real historical events – I had to do some googling as there were names of cities and regions of Chad mentioned, how they were created or who ruled them, and they weren’t names I was familiar with. I learnt about the Wadai Empire thanks to this book. An area to the east of Lake Chad that covered present-day Chad and the Central African Republic that was ruled by a sultan in the seventeenth century.

A lot of the stories have an almost fairy-tale quality to them. There are wicked stepmothers, talking animals, giants, kings and princesses. Some stories are sad but most end happily or with those who have suffered getting some sort of justice.

Told by Starlight in Chad is a collection of stories that are like folktales and I found them very easy to read. I also found it interesting to see how while the stories weren’t ones I knew, the kinds of messages they had were ones I learnt from different stories growing up. So while the narrative was different, the morals are universal.

READ THE WORLD – Andorra: The Mysterious Balloon Man by Albert Salvadó

At the end of the eighteenth century, changes abound all over Europe. France is in conflict with its neighbours (and is losing a monarch too), England and Spain struggle for supremacy in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and on the other side of the ocean and new power is starting to emerge – the United States of America. After realising that traditional spies will no longer work in this changing world, civil servant Alfred Gordon propose that the British secret service should employ Thomas Headking – an Englishman living in Spain who is on the run for killing a nobleman’s son in a duel. From using his business acumen Thomas gains information and secrets, while getting embroiled in romantic drama, that the British could find very useful.

I don’t tend to read reviews of books I know I’m going to read (especially for my Read the World Project) but as I discovered The Mysterious Balloon Man via Goodreads when looking for an author from Andorra, I happened to glance at people’s star ratings and they weren’t particularly high. Because of that I went into this book with some trepidation but then was pleasantly surprised to fine I weirdly enjoyed it.

It is an odd book and is very heavy on the history and politics of the time – there’s a handy table at the beginning showing all the real historical figures in The Mysterious Balloon Man and who they were which was helpful. Because The Mysterious Balloon Man is one of those books where it’s set during real historical events and features a lot of people who really existed, Charles IV the King of Spain and William Pitt the British Prime Minister to name a few, but the main character we follow are all fictious; Alfred Gordon, Sir Arthur Blum (head of intelligence services at the Foreign Office), Thomas Headking and the everyday Spanish people he interacts with whether that’s his business partner (who doesn’t know his partner is a spy) or Maria the deaf-mute woman he helps and becomes his source inside the Spanish Prime Minister’s residence.

The Mysterious Balloon Man is the first book in a trilogy and the titular Balloon Man plays a very minor role in this book and doesn’t even show up until the latter half of the story. Really, The Mysterious Balloon Man is about Thomas Headking becoming a reluctant spy/businessman and all the goings on in the British secret service as they try and keep track of what’s going on in Spain and France and have some infighting too. It’s a slow-moving book with a lot of political goings on so if that’s not your thing then it wouldn’t be for you.

What I was surprised to find in The Mysterious Balloon Man was this incredibly wry sense of humour running through it – especially from Alfred Gordon. There’s a lot of him butting heads with his superior and other civil servants and there’s people who you wonder how on Earth they got to positions of such power when they are so incredibly incompetent (very true to life really). This sort of tongue in cheek humour made the stuffier moments easier to take in.

While all in all it’s hard to see whether or not Thomas and the British secret service really achieved what they set out to do, as they were doing it, I was mostly entertained. I’m not sure when I will continue with this trilogy but there was enough in this first book to not give up on this series. I think mainly I’m intrigued to know more about Ali Bey as the trilogy is called The Shadow of Ali Bey and they only made a brief appearance in this book. 4/5.

REVIEW: Black Widow (2021)

After the events of Captain America: Civil War Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run but soon her past catches up with her as she’s reunited with her sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and learns that the Red Room she thought she’d long destroyed is still active.

After all this time Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow finally gets her own movie. While I’m certainly pleased that the character, and Scarlett Johansson who has more than a decade with this character, has finally gotten their time to shine, as a film it also feels a bit redundant. Having it set between the events of Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War means that there’s no real stakes for Natasha as we know we see her again. However, while her physical safety may be assured, Black Widow does allow more time to examine her psyche and she a few other characters certainly go through the emotional ringer – whether all those emotional beats land is another matter.

The fight sequences are great and having so many aerial shots make the movements seem fluid and helps these scenes standout more compared to other fight sequences in the MCU. The initial confrontation between Natasha and Yelena who haven’t seen each other for decades is a highlight. There’s the usual big explosions and car chases but it’s the one-on-one fight sequences which are the best and highlight how Natasha differs to her fellow superheroes.

With Natasha unable to turn to her Avenger family, she is forced to reconnect with a family from her past. Her dynamic with Yelena is interesting as while Yelena is clearly a more than capable spy and combatant, Natasha quickly falls back into the older sister role. Alexei (David Harbour) is the only Russian super soldier and Melina (Rachel Weisz) round out this family unit as the slippery scientist who you’re never quite sure where her allegiance lies. There’s an easy chemistry between the four actors but Florence Pugh steals just about every scene she’s in. Her Yelena is sarcastic and funny but she’s also hurting from her own experience in the Red Room. She’s also struggling to compartmentalise what this family unit means as she was so young when they were last together and to her, while it was a family of spies and double agents, it felt real.

Black Widow is a simpler MCU film. It’s Natasha facing her past and while the hundreds of Black Widows out there can certainly cause a lot of damage, it’s not framed as the end of the world type scenario. Instead, it’s about saving these young women from a life of trauma and control. However, the idea of the Red Room and these young girls being trained, and even brainwashed, to become master spies and assassins is a dark one and Black Widow never really goes into it more than at the surface level. Natasha’s past is dark and while Johansson does a good job at slowly revealing the layers of Natasha’s guilt and pain and love that’s all mixed together with her feelings for the Red Room and this unconventional family of hers, it often feels like something is missing.

Black Widow is an enjoyable action/spy thriller and there’s some good character work for Natasha and Yelena. While characters like Alexei are fun when they’re on screen (he’s much of the films comedic relief) they’re not particularly memorable afterwards. 3/5.