1 star

READ THE WORLD – Sierra Leone: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The story of three men in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. Old academic Elias Cole lies in a hospital bed reminiscing about his life in Freetown in 1969 and his love for Saffia Kamara, the wife of his charismatic colleague. Elsewhere in the hospital is Kai, a gifted young surgeon, is tormented by nightmares from the civil war while British psychologist Adrian Lockheart is working at the hospital, trying to help those who have been affected by the civil war, and trying to find meaning in his work. The three of them meet in different ways and are more connected than they realise.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and this is definitely one of those books I would’ve DNF’d if I was physically reading it. I really didn’t like The Memory of Love for a lot of different reasons.

Firstly, there are the three main characters. Chapters are told from each of their perspectives and Holdbrook-Smith does a good job at distinguishing between these characters with his voice. The three men have a lot of similarities, they’re all smart, stubborn and reserved but the only one I didn’t have a huge problem with was Kai. Kai is kind, thoughtful and a great uncle, his relationship with his eight-year-old nephew is the best. The big difference between Kai and Elias and Adrian, is his attitude towards women. He’s more respectful than the other two, though can still be infatuated. Elias becomes obsessive and almost stalkerish when it comes to Saffia, the way he describes her was unsettling, especially those moments when he could tell he made her feel uncertain or uncomfortable but didn’t care. Adrian has a wife and young daughter in the UK, but that doesn’t stop him cheating on his wife with musician Mamakay. He gets very jealous over Mamakay before they’re even together, and he is often ignorant and patronising of her life. Adrian likes to think he has a connection to Sierra Leone as his mother was almost born there, but really, he’s the white saviour type character and he doesn’t even realise it. Adrian and Elisa both made me angry at different times in the book, and their love stories weren’t that loving or romantic to me.

The story itself was quite dull and very slow. It takes a long time for the connections between these three men to become clear and they all seem to drift through their lives. The Memory of Love is a story about love but it’s not a particularly romantic or even emotional story. I was never engaged with any of the characters or their pasts. There are many examples of how war as affected the country and its people, but it is always like a footnote in the three men’s lives. The people and the country have suffered a great deal of trauma, but I never really felt the full affects of that.

This is a personal taste thing but as someone that can’t watch medical dramas on TV because of the blood and the surgeries, I found listening to some of the description in The Memory of Love really hard going. When Kai is in an operating theatre everything is described in vivid detail; what he and the other medical staff are doing, the blood, the bones, the pus, and it honestly made me feel a bit queasy at times. Another thing that’s described in minute detail is Adrian’s diagnosis of various patients and the ins and outs of various mental health issues. This attention to detail made it feel more like a medical journal than a historical fiction book and made the story almost grind to a halt when it was being all educational.

In The Memory of Love two out of three of the main characters are unlikable, and at times infuriating, the story wasn’t engaging and nothing about it was memorable. I was just going through the motions listening to this on audio, just like the characters were and their lives and romances weren’t captivating at all. 1/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Japan: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The edition I listened to was translated by Phillip Gabriel.

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school, they were a solid group of people, three boys and two girls. By chance all their names, bar Tsukuru’s, contained a colour. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced they didn’t want to see or speak to him ever again – giving Tsukuru no explanation. For years Tsukuru floundered without the support of his friends, unable to make meaningful connections with anyone else. But then he meets Sara, who tells him its time for him to find out what happened sixteen years ago that made his friends shut him out.

This is a book that’s been sitting on my shelves for years but after borrowing the audiobook (narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens) from my library, I’ve finally read it – audiobooks are a gift and I didn’t figure that out till 2018.

I found there to be a distance between Tsukuru and myself as the reader, I couldn’t connect to him and I didn’t really like him much either, and there’s a few possible reasons for this. Firstly, I feel the narrator might have been a factor, I wasn’t too keen on how his narration was quite monotone, so I’d sometimes find myself not really listening to what he was saying. I think the way it’s written as well was very matter-of-fact and there’s little room for emotion. And thirdly, I think maybe you’re supposed to feel that way about Tsukuru. The major point of his story is that he can’t form intimate connections with people and maybe that extends to the reader as well.

I’ve never noticed this in any book previously, so that’s either because I don’t tend to read adult fiction written by a man, or I was just unaware until social media pointed it out, but the way women’s bodies are described is just eyeroll-inducing. The way a woman’s neck, breasts and legs were described was just over the top and almost creepy at times, which was probably another reason I couldn’t take to Tsukuru. He seemed very much like the typical “nice guy” that wasn’t so much a nice guy.

The mystery of why Tsukuru’s friends shut him out and never attempted to reach out to him over the years is a sad one, though while Tsukuru gets an answer, it’s not a fully satisfying one. it is interesting to revisit his old friends, seeing how they and he have changed over the years, and how some friendships can survive the test of time and conflicts while others cannot.

Tsukuru builds railway stations and enjoys learning everything about them. The scenes where he’s sat in a station, people watching, were very enjoyable as not only are you given the facts and figures of Japanese railway stations and the people who pass through them, it feels like a snapshot at every day life for the average Japanese commuter.

This was the first book by Haruki Murakami I’ve read, but if Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage is an indication of Murakami’s writing style and the type of characters his stories are about, I doubt I will be reading any more of his work. 1/5.

REVIEW: Revenge for Jolly! (2012)

When Harry’s (Brian Petsos) beloved dog is killed, he recruits his cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac) to help him track down the guy who did it and he won’t stop till he has his revenge.

Oh boy. This is not a good film, and it’s not even a so-bad-it’s-good kind of film. There’s nothing enjoyable to be found here. Harry and Cecil head off on a violent road trip, shooting anyone who gets in their way. This seems to be played for laughs, and with a better script the dark humour might have worked, but generally any attempt at humour falls flat.

There are some talented actors in here, such as Elijah Wood as bartender Thomas and Kristen Wiig as bride Angela, but they are only around for a scene and they don’t offer much to the film. You can say that with a lot of the named actors in this, and Petsos (who is also the films writer) just isn’t a good lead nor a good actor full stop.

Revenge for Jolly! tries to be outrageous but it mostly ends up being dull. The senseless killing becomes repetitive and it started to bother me as the film went on as those who were dying had nothing to do with the dog’s death in the first place. Oscar Isaac is the one bright spot in an otherwise dreary film, he tries his best with what he’s given, and a couple of his lines are what managed to get chuckle out of me. 1/5.

REIVEW: Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)

Humans and Transformers are at war and Optimus Prime is missing. The key to the survival of both species is buried in the past, in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth – inventor and friend to the autobots Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) must find the truth to save them all.

The Last Knight is not a good film. In fact, you could call it a bad film. You could also call it dull, tedious and, at times, incoherent. Now while some people may be like “oh what a surprise! Michael Bay-Transformers films suck” I went into it hoping I’d like it. I do have a soft spot for the franchise. Transformers (2007) is a fun, decent film that’s very enjoyable – the rest are all varying degrees of quality but you can generally have some fun with them. Admittedly that ended for me with Age of Extinction (2014) but I’m an optimistic kind of person.

The Last Knight is a nice looking film, all the CGI looks great and all the transformers look different and it wasn’t too difficult to follow which transformer was which in big action sequences. That’s the thing, I could follow the robot fights but when there was people running about, that was not edited well. It was often hard to tell where people are in relation to each other and whatever the danger is and also there were times where it felt like a shot or two had been forgotten as a character would pop up somewhere and you’d be like “I did not see you go from place A to place B?!”

Also, as a small pet peeve, The Last Knight has some of the worst UK geography I’ve ever seen. Whether it was driving down The Mall in London one way, then the other (without showing Buckingham Palace and no sign they turned around) or the fact when it was set in Oxford, historian Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) was giving a tour to students and it made it look like Bodleian Library was a part of the Museum of Natural History when it’s in fact a 10 minute walk down the road.

I did like how the character of Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) returned to the franchise. He’s working for the government task force that are hunting down transformers so there’s some interesting conflict there as he knew and worked with some of the autobots – unfortunately this potentially interesting character arc and conflict isn’t really explored at all.

The Last Knight generally looks great but its let down by a script that has many, many jokes that do not land and any conversation feels awkward. All the human cast gives fine performances and in the case of Sir Anthony Hopkins, a very weird performance. Sir Edmund Burton is an eccentric guy who is part of a secret society that’s known about transformers for hundreds of years and Anthony Hopkins give a strangely fascinating performance – it’s just not the sort of thing you’d expect Hopkins to do.

The main problem with The Last Knight is that while it had a lot of stuff going on, I found myself bored. I was looking at my watch during the final showdown because it was not keeping my attention and I was just waiting for it to be over. I also found myself wanting to be home watching the first Transformers film as at least that’s fun.

That’s the thing with Transformers: The Last Knight – the main emotion it brought out of me was apathy. I just didn’t care about these characters, both human and robot, and while it looked pretty good, sometimes it was too chaotic and incoherent for me. 1/5.

REVIEW: Gods of Egypt (2016)

gods-of-egypt-posterMortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites) teams up with the god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to try and defeat Set (Gerard Butler), the god of darkness who has taken Egypt’s throne, enslaved its people and plunged the empire into chaos and war.

Gods of Egypt is not a good film. There’s so much wrong with it, the dialogue is awkward and sometimes cheesy, the action scenes are terrible and while it might have a lot of big, shiny things, the CGI can’t really save the film.

Let’s talk about the dialogue. From the first scene with Bek and his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) their whole conversation is clunky and is a full-on info dump. From there it doesn’t get much better. There’s some quips when I think were supposed to be humours but not as funny as I found them – they were so cheesy and said at a really inappropriate time.

Then there’s the fight scenes. Some aren’t so bad, and the special effects on the Egyptian gods sometimes looks pretty cool, but then others are just awful. There’s the slow-mo pans around a character as he leaps towards someone, it honestly looks like the actor has been told to hold a couple of fighting poses and the camera, editing and VFX teams will do the rest.

I can’t not mention that a film set in Egypt, about Egyptian gods, has very few people of colour in it – especially black people. I feel like the scene where there’s a hundred Thoth’s (Chadwick Boseman) walking around is some sort of weird attempt to level the playing field.

All in all, Gods of Egypt is a dull and predictable film, though it does manage to sometimes looks pretty and sparkly. 1/5.

REVIEW: W.E. (2011)

WE film poster madonnaThe story of the affair between American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) is a back drop to Wally Winthrop’s (Abbie Cornish) own unhappy marriage as she spends her time looking at a collection of items related to Wallis Simpson.

W.E. bounces back and forth between Wallis Simpson’s and Prince Edward’s affair and marriage in the 1930’s and to 1998 where Wally is in an abusive marriage to William (Richard Coyle) a distant man who spends more time working at the hospital than with his wife and when he does see her, he verbally and physically attacks. Wally loses herself in the world of Wallis Simpson and spends her days in an auction house looking at all this memorabilia, there she meets Russian security guard Evgeni (Oscar Isaac) and they strike up an unlikely friendship.

If W.E. had been solely focussed on Wallis Simpson’s story, it might have been a half decent film. Unfortunately it keeps returning to Wally and her obsession with Wallis Simpson which is bordering on the ridiculous in 1998 who you don’t find yourself caring about at all. Back in the 1930’s there’s a few moments that are interesting like any scene featuring Prince George (Lawrence Fox) and Elizabeth (Natalie Dormer) are nice and it’s great seeing their relationship and their relationship with Edward and Wallis. (more…)