1 star

READ THE WORLD – Democratic Republic of Congo: Beneath the Blue Sky: A Short Book of Poetry by Frederick Yamusangie

A short poetry collection of less than 80 pages.

I won’t say I’m an expert in poetry, because I’m most definitely not, but I have read some poetry collections over the past few months so I’m starting to get an idea of what I like and what does and doesn’t work for me.

Unfortunately, Beneath the Blue Sky doesn’t work for me. There’s no theme or anything running through this poetry collection, making each poem insular and has very little effect. It’s also then hard to derive any meaning from them because they are so varied in what they are about, or what point of view a poem is from. The poems themselves are often very short, and as there’s nothing connecting them, it’s just like you read five lines and then that’s it.

In the latter half of the collection there were two poems that stood out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were the poems which were longer and had more substance to them. The first is called A Jungle which was about how a town is called a jungle and how and why that is when a physically jungle is so different. The second is called Oh! My Congo! which is about the Congo, how it’s changing and the people there. These two poems were ones that felt like they meant something and were from a point of view that was more unique.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy Beneath the Blue Sky. It’s a short yet meandering poetry collection that really didn’t work for me and I’m struggling to find anything else to say about it. 1/5.

REVIEW: Artemis Fowl (2020)

When his father (Colin Farrell) is kidnapped, child prodigy Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) must find a missing magical artefact and battle against powerful fairies in order to rescue him.

I shall preface this by saying the Artemis Fowl series was one of my favourites as a child. I read them from roughly the ages of 9 – 14 and though it’s been a good while since I’ve read the source material there are some things that have stuck with me for all these years. In the books, Artemis Fowl is an antihero, with the emphasis on the anti. He is a criminal mastermind and his parents are not a major part of the story at all, in fact he gets involved with the world of magical creatures because he kidnaps one and wants money and secrets. The film version may use a few elements of the plot of the book (and brings in a villain from later books) the end product is mostly unrecognisable.

Part of this may be down to Artemis Fowl going through what is commonly known as production hell. There’s been a variety of directors and producers attached to the film over the years, and it has had multiple release dates before being dumped on Disney+. Also, there’s the antihero part. Artemis is not a nice boy, he is super smart and looks down on everyone, and is not above threats of (and carrying out) torture to get what he wants. This is the kind of lead character that doesn’t really suit the family-friendly Disney image. Though that was part of the reason the books stood out in the boom of young boy heroes like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Alex Rider.

The film begins with Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), a giant dwarf, being arrested and as he’s interrogated, he begins to narrate the story of Artemis Fowl and what transpired at Fowl Manor. This as a narrative device is weird to begin with. Sometimes the dialogue is as if Mulch is talking to an unseen integrator while at other times it’s as if he’s talking directly to the audience. I guess this choice was made as a way to give information about this magical world to the audience, but it ends up being jarring and the film would’ve worked just as well as a straightforward narrative.

This is Ferdia Shaw’s first role so we’ll have to see over the course of his career if he improves, but in Artemis Fowl his line delivery is often flat and he doesn’t do a good job at show much emotion on his face. Lara McDonnell, who plays kidnapped LEPRecon Officer Holly Short, isn’t given much to do – in fact in one of the big action sequences in Fowl Manor she gets stuck in a chandelier for the majority of the ensuing battle. That being said, I feel the cast did the best with what they were given. It’s not their fault they had a bland script with little character development, and the end product was often shoddily edited making their characters look disconnected from one another. Watching the trailers again after seeing the film is interesting as there’s so many shots shown that aren’t in the film and hint at whole scenes and plotlines having been cut.

Artemis Fowl has a trim runtime of 90 minutes but amazingly it feels longer. The action scenes aren’t exciting, the intrigue isn’t there, and the characters aren’t particularly memorable. Though Judi Dench growling out “Top of the morning” was the one and only time that I laughed. While Judi Dench may have been an odd choice for Commander Root (the character being a male fairy in the books for one thing) her growling, no nonsense attitude was one of the only enjoyable things to watch.

Artemis Fowl is an incredibly disappointing adaptation and is also a disappointing film. It tries to cram in a lot of lore and it repeatedly tells you things about the world and its characters rather than show you, or indeed having the things it tells you actually being relevant – for instance the film begins with Mulch waxing lyrically about how smart Artemis Fowl is, when a lot of what he does comes from what he’s just heard his father talk about rather than researching himself. Artemis Fowl ends up just being a dull, lifeless film with generic and unexciting action sequences, and is unlikely to be remembered fondly by anyone – both people new to this world and fans of the book. 1/5.

Z is for Zookeeper (2011)

Kind-hearted zookeeper Griffin (Kevin James) is a much loved by his co-workers and the animals in his care. However, Griffin is unlucky in love so when he reconnects with ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), the animals in the zoo decide to break their code of silence in order to help him win her back.

Zookeeper is not good, and it also struggles to figure out what it is. The scenario of animals taking and helping out a zookeeper makes it targeted towards younger audiences. However, the humour is full of inuendo that children won’t understand or find it funny, and the adults who might find it funny, are unlikely to be watching this film in the first place.

The special effects for the animals aren’t terrible, however the choice of voice actors might well be. I’m not saying you expect a certain voice to come from a bear or a giraffe, but a lot of the voice cast didn’t suit the animal or give a good performance. So many of the animals sounded grumpy or were mean. They weren’t exactly friendly and if they’d been human with those attitudes, I doubt Griffin or anyone else would’ve been friends with them.

Kevin James gives a perfectly bland performance as nice guy Griffin. He has no chemistry with Bibb, or Rosario Dawson who plays a vet at the zoo, so one has to wonder how he is cast as a romantic comedy type lead. He is good at falling over and crashing into things though. So, there’s that.

I doubt anyone would consider this a spoiler, or care if it was, but I have to mention what happens during the end credits. All of the animals sing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen and one of the worst things I’ve heard. Especially when Sylvester Stallone tries to harmonise with Cher. Yep, that is something that happens. No offence to Cher, she’s amazing, Stallone on the other hand, is not.

Zookeeper is unfunny, predictable, and somewhat unsuitable for the kids it’s aimed for. Just don’t waste your time. 1/5.

P is for Playing It Cool (2014)

A screenwriter who doesn’t believe in love (Chris Evans) is tasked with writing a rom-com. As he struggles to put metaphorical pen to paper, he meets a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who he starts to have feelings for. It’s a pity she has a boyfriend but taking on the advice (both good and bad) from his eclectic group of writer friends, he tries to sort out his head and win her heart.

The two romantic leads in Playing It Cool are never actually give names so I’ll be referring to them by the actors’ surname to get through this review.

Playing It Cool is a rom com that likes to think it’s an anti-rom com but by the end it embraces a lot of the tropes, but it feels as if it is forced to do it rather than embracing it tongue and cheek. In some ways it reminded me of Isn’t It Romantic which poked fun at the tropes of rom coms, however unlike Isn’t It Romantic, Playing It Cool is often outright mean and treat the tropes and romance in general as something to be scorned. This comes from being told from Evans’ perspective and he’s jaded and shut off from romantic relationships. His actions come across quite bitter and having a lead that’s so self-centred doesn’t really make you root for him.

His best friend Scott (Topher Grace) loves romance. He’s an old fashioned romantic, a much nicer person and someone who is much more engaging on their quest for love. In fact, the glimpses we get of Evans’ writer friends make them seem all the more real and relatable than the main character.

Evans and Monaghan do have chemistry and it’s easy to be caught up in that when they’re on screen together. However, both of their characters are not good people and are frustrating to watch. He chases her when he knows she has a boyfriend; she is happy to cheat on her boyfriend and they both lie. It’s not really the basis of a healthy relationship.

By the end there’s the big rush to declare your feelings sequence, with a feel-good song and an attempt at a big romantic gesture but it feels conceited. There’s a 99% chance these two people will not live happily ever after, so the ending doesn’t feel like the triumph for love it’s framed as. While only being six years old, Playing It Cool is a rom com that feels far older with its attitude that men and women can’t just be friends, and some jokes that really fall flat due to their inappropriateness. 1/5.

REVIEW: Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

Narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

Robin of Locksley is dead. Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé. Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

I have such mixed feelings about this book. I listened to it on audio and it took me a while to get into the story because I couldn’t get on with the accents the narrator chose to do. Though, if I had not have been listening to the audiobook, I probably would’ve stopped reading it. Sherwood is quite slow to get going and even when there were fights, they were often predictable.

I had such a love hate relationship with Marian. Sometimes she was kind and thoughtful and clever, but then other times she’s so dense, self-centred and reckless it’s infuriating. She is written to be better than Robin of Locksley in every single way, she’s better at archery, she’s smarter, she’s more loyal. It’s weird and contradictory because she’s constantly putting Robin on a pedestal in her mind but at the same time often says things a long the line of “Robin could never do this”. I liked her relationship with her maid Elena but that’s probably because I liked Elena as a character more than Marian a lot of the time.

The “romance” between Marian and Guy of Gisborne was not good. It’s a problematic relationship from the start as they both use and manipulate one another and Guy is needlessly stupid when it comes to not realising that the Robin Hood he’s chasing, and the girl he’s attempting to woo are one and the same. The author tried to give Guy more of a backstory make him more sympathetic and all the time I was like “Why are you trying to make this bad guy misunderstood?!” and this character development was done so slowly that where his character ends up at the end seems so rushed.

Speaking of rushed, the ending of Sherwood became really rather convoluted as there were too many plot threads that were attempted to be addressed in the big final showdown. It was hard to keep track of where characters were, who knew what, and what they were trying to achieve.

I think my main problem with this book is that it is a retelling, and a retelling of a story and characters that I hold dear. I’ve read and enjoyed retellings before like The Lunar Chronicles, and I’ve read retellings that I didn’t really like, like Frankenstein in Baghdad but my dislike of it wasn’t due to it being a retelling. Previously when I’ve read retellings, they’ve been based on stories I’ve had little to no attachment to and then it’s fun to see the new twists on a well-known story.

With Sherwood, I didn’t like what the new twists did to characters I like. My Robin Hood story is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and I’ll admit the versions of the characters in that film are the ones I know and love. Here, none of the Merry Men get any sort of character development. Will Scarlett is nothing more than a wet weekend while Little John, Alan-a-Dale and Much are only recognisable by their names. I liked the idea of Marian being good with a sword and independent, but it becomes far too close to her being Not Like Other Girls that it’s cringey.

Perhaps Sherwood would’ve worked if it hadn’t had been a retelling. If it was the story of a noble young lady wanting to help people and making friends and having adventures separate from the Robin Hood myth it might’ve worked. Because naturally Sherwood lends itself to comparisons of not only the original story but to the many adaptations that have come before it, and in those comparisons it is found severely lacking.

When I started writing this review I thought I’d give it two stars, but as I was writing I came to the realisation that there was far more that I disliked about Sherwood than liked, and if I hadn’t had it on audio from my library, I definitely would’ve given up on it.

I love the premise of Sherwood but the execution leaves much to be desired, especially when it tears down other characters to make its lead a Strong Female Character, and unfortunately the majority of the story and its characters fall flat. 1/5.

REVEW: Robin Hood: The Rebellion (2018)

When Maid Marian (Marie Everett) is captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham (James Oliver Wheatley), Robin Hood (Ben Freeman) leads Will Scarlett (James G. Nunn) and Little John (Jamie Kenna) into battle to rescue her.

There are so many different takes on the Robin Hood story, and this one is not going to be remembered – fondly or otherwise. Robin Hood: The Rebellion is largely set across one day as Marian is captured and Robin infiltrates the Sheriff’s castle and attempts to rescue her. Being set in such a short space of time, the film relies on the title cards to explain what has been happening to the people of Nottingham, and also through so much expository dialogue that it becomes almost a chore to listen to the characters talk.

One of the main elements of the Robin Hood story that makes it something people enjoy to revisit, is the characters and their relationships. However, in this tale the characters have little to no characterisation and there is no chemistry between any of the cast members. Whether that’s Everett’s Marian and Freeman’s Robin who are supposed to be in love, or Freeman’s Robin and Nunn’s Will Scarlett who are said to be best friends in the opening titles but there’s not sense of any kind of relationship between them. John’s defining characteristic is that he complains all the time, and at least he got a gimmick as Will Scarlett barely has any lines or is unable to make an impression. There are a few quips courtesy of Robin Hood but they don’t work as they happen so rarely in an otherwise sober film that they feel out of place.

On the whole, the acting is as wooden as the trees in Sherwood Forest and those who are able to ham it up, like the Sherriff or his cousin Guy of Gisborne (James Groom), come across desperate and the performances don’t work in the film they’ve been given.

Robin Hood: The Rebellion is dull and uninspired. The sword fights are not at all exciting and the dialogue and plot are tedious as the same things happen again and again and characters have the same conversations again and again. 1/5.

READ THE WORLD – Portugal: Raised from the Ground by José Saramago

Translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

A multigenerational family saga set in twentieth-century Portugal. Raised from the Ground follows the Mau Tempo family, a family of poor landless peasants, as they try and make a life for themselves as national and international events take place around them. But nothing really impinges on their grim reality until the first communist stirrings in the country.

The way Raised from the Ground is written took me a long time to get my head around. It’s like there’s an omniscient and omnipresent narrator, telling the lives of the different members of the family as each generation grows up. This style means there’s no speech marks when people talk and there often are very long sentences with many commas in them. The long sentences aren’t so bad, it’s the paragraphs that are anywhere between a page long and four-pages long that cause problems. It is very easy to get lost in those long paragraphs.

The story itself is not memorable and the characters, of which there are a lot, are not well developed. When the story shifts focus from one character or relationship to the other, it’s hard to remember or keep track of who is related to who. While the first 80 pages or so are engaging, the dreary existence of this peasant family becomes repetitive and dull as there is little chance for them to better themselves. No doubt this is the point of Raised from the Ground, but a novel can’t just make a point, it must also be interesting and unfortunately this one wasn’t.

Raised from the Ground pans around sixty years and the verbose narrator also talks about events that happened before the books beginning multiple times. Across those years different national and international events are referenced (including two World Wars) and the little footnotes that explained a reference to an important event in Portugal was appreciated. Though the way the book is written, focusing so closely on one family’s struggles, meant that the historical context was never fully explained so the impact of these events on the family and their community was never really felt.

I’ve read multigenerational family sagas before and on the whole I rather enjoy them. However, Raised from the Ground is not one of the ones I enjoyed. The combination of the writing style and the story meant I often felt my eyes glazing over. I did like the little titbits of Portuguese history speckled throughout the novel, though there wasn’t enough of that to keep me interested. 1/5.

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.

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.