5 stars

REVIEW: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

In her everyday life Eliza Mirk is shy, awkward and hates school, but in the online world she’s LadyConstellation, the anonymous creator of mega popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Eliza can’t imagine ever enjoying the real world as much as the online one so she never really bothers to try. That is until Wallace Warland, Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction author, transfers to Eliza’s school and, believing Eliza is just another fan, he begins to draw her out of her shell. But when Eliza’s secret is accidentally revealed everything in her life is thrown into turmoil, her relationship with Wallace, her art and even her sanity.

I loved this book. I’ve been wary of books about fandom because I’ve always kind of felt that the first rule of fandom, is that you don’t talk about fandom. But I’m so happy that Eliza and Her Monsters showed me that there can be great books about fandom that respects and understands it.

Eliza and Her Monsters is a mix-media novel, it includes panels from Monstrous Sea as well as emails, letters and instant messages. This, plus the fact the book is great, helps make Eliza and Her Monsters a really quick read. I loved how the extracts from Monstrous Sea often mirrored the situations Eliza found herself in, giving you an extra insight as to where her mind is at. The Monstrous Sea story was just as interesting as Eliza’s story and the book did a great job of explaining the plot of the webcomic enough that when characters discussed who their favourite characters were, you had a good idea who they were talking about.

Eliza’s two best friends are Max and Emmie and they’ve never met face to face. I love how Eliza and Her Monsters shows how people behind a computer screen can be, and often are, just as important a connection as those you see in the flesh. The three of them are all great friends who not only share the fandom stuff but their real-life events too. I also liked how Eliza realises and apologises when she does sometimes takes Max and Emmie for granted, she’s a flawed, ordinary person who mistakes and I loved reading about her.

I was on edge as the story progressed as I could tell that Eliza’s internet identity would come out and everything she had with Wallace would be put in jeopardy. I hate confrontation, both in real life and in fiction, and had grown so attached to Eliza that I didn’t want to see her hurt.

I loved Eliza and Her Monsters. I loved how various characters grew on me as the story progressed, how I could relate to Eliza but still get frustrated with her sometimes, the complexities of online and offline personas – it was all so great. Eliza and Her Monsters made me cry because it hit me right in the feels and that hasn’t happened with a book for a long time. 5/5.

REVIEW: Miss Sloane (2016)

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most sought after lobbyist in Washington D.C. But when she turns down the job of working against a gun control bill and instead joins Rodolfo Schmidt’s (Mark Strong) firm which is working to ensure the bill passes, she finds herself against her most powerful opponent.

Miss Sloane is a gripping political thriller. While it does feature the hot topic of gun control and putting restrictions on who can go and buy a gun, the film uses that to show the tactics lobbyists use to get congressmen onside, and how politics can be corrupted. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain of American politics and while this story is fiction, it is an interesting look at how bills can succeed or fail.

Elizabeth Sloane is amazing. She’s one of those characters who isn’t a nice person at all and will happily use people to get the result she wants but there’s something about her that pulls you in. She is a master tactician and a thing the film does really well is it not only has multiple characters say how smart and formidable she is, but actually shows you how smart and formidable she is. Jessica Chastain knocks it out of the park in this role, showing there are some very hidden layers to Elizabeth and she has no problem with who she is.

While Chastain stills the show, the whole cast is truly brilliant. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Waterston, Alison Pill and John Lithgow all deserve a mention as they all give great performances.

The music and set design make everything about the world these politicians work in look clean and perfect but it really helps hide the truth that there is shady business going on in politics every day. All the costumes are great, with suits and office attire adding another facet to each character.

Miss Sloane is a brilliant film that will have you rooting for the underdog. Jessica Chastain is amazing in the role and it’s a film I can’t stop thinking about. 5/5.

REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

I wasn’t planning on rewatching and potentially reviewing all the Pirates of the Caribbean films in the run up to the fifth film’s release but I’ve seen trailers for Salazar’s Revenge every time I’ve been to the cinema recently so it gave me the craving to rewatch the series.

When governor’s daughter Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) is kidnapped by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) of the Black Pearl, blacksmith Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) teams up with eccentric pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to save her.

The Curse of the Black Pearl is Johnny Depp’s first outing as Captain Jack Sparrow and it’s clear to see why Sparrow and Depp’s performance has kind of become iconic over the past ten plus years. Jack Sparrow is one of those characters who’s become a favourite to so many people. He permanently appears drunk and clueless but he often surprises everyone by having a mad plan all along. He’s funny, somewhat charming and good with a sword.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is such good fun. It’s full of action, epic duels and it does that magical thing of balancing action and comedy superbly. It’s also a very quotable film and I spend most of my time mouthing the lines along with the characters. Depp, Knightley and Bloom all have great chemistry and it’s wonderful when they’re on screen together. Everyone gives it their all, Barbossa is a formidable villain and Norrington (Jack Davenport) is surprisingly sympathetic.

I can’t not mention the score. Composed by Klaus Badelt with input from Hans Zimmer, the Pirates of the Caribbean score has become one of the most recognisable scores in recent years. It perfectly captures the fun and excitement of the film and has kind of become the theme for anything pirate related.

The special effects used on Barbossa’s crew still look pretty good over a decade later and perhaps that’s because they are used sparingly. The film waits to reveal the secret of the curse and even once it has, it still makes the moments when you see the effects of the curse truly count.

I just love Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl! It is such an enjoyable film that I do not get tired of rewatching. I honestly think the word fun is the best word to describe, The Curse of the Black Pearl. It is one of those classic, action-adventure, fun for all the family kind of films and over the years it hasn’t lost its charm. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighboured she grew up in and the posh high school she attends where she’s one of two black kids there. The uneasy balance between the two is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of Khalil, her unarmed best friend, by a police officer. Now if Starr speaks up it could destroy her community, and it could get her killed.

Starr witnesses a terrible crime and you’re right there with her as she goes through the stages of grief. She’s so strong and brave but she doesn’t always feel that way. You feel her pain and anger but you also can understand her parents who just want to keep her safe – whether that means speaking out about what happened or keeping it a secret. I loved Starr and her family. Her parents are kind of #relationshipgoals and parenting goals really, they both may have made mistakes in the past but they love each other and their children and will do anything to make life better for them.

The Hate U Give is brilliantly written – there’s so many lines I could quote that are either touching or profound or just funny. While there’s all this awfulness going on in Starr’s life, she’s still a teenager and the way her voice, and the voice of all the teens in the book are captured, makes it so real. There’s arguments with her boyfriend, the in-jokes she shares with her brothers, and there’s something not right between her and her friends and she doesn’t know why, but knows it started when one of them stopped following her on Tumblr – it’s stuff like that that helps make all these characters feel vibrant and real.

The Hate U Give is sometimes a tough read, it pulls on your heart and makes you just as angry and frustrated as Starr. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions as it’s so similar to real life events that have happened over the past few years that you just don’t know if everything will be alright. It still manages to give you a bit of hope though, that while some people won’t change, others will or will use their voice.

The Hate U Give is a phenomenal book about friendship, loyalty, family and using your voice. It made me smile, it made me tear up and I can’t recommend it enough. 5/5.

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Poe Dameron Vol. 1, Monstress Vol. 1 and A-Force Vol. 0

I couldn’t figure out what book I wanted to read recently (the great thing about the Read the World Project is I’ve got a lot of interesting options but it does sometimes feel like homework) so I went back to my comic shelves and read a few of my unread volumes. I have stuff to say about them but not a lot so here’s some mini reviews.

Poe Dameron Volume 1: Black Squadron by Charles Soule and Phil Noto

I really loved this comic! Poe Dameron stole my heart in The Force Awakens so when I heard he was going to have his own comic series I knew I had to read it. Black Squadron is a prequel to The Force Awakens and Poe, along with his friends in his squadron, are tasked by Leia Organa to find Lor San Tekka (the old guy Poe’s talking to at the start of The Force Awakens – boy I’ve said The Force Awakens a lot in this paragraph!).

So, the comic is all about the mission but also the downtime and you get to see Poe interact with his team which is great. It’s a funny comic, Poe’s charm shines right off the pages and it’s a nice way to learn more about the character. Plus, his relationship with BB-8 is brilliant, there’s a scene where the whole plan depends on BB-8 and some other droids and Poe has complete faith in them.

I also love the art style in Black Squadron. Phil Noto draws some gorgeous stuff (his Black Widow run is also fab) and I love the colours. It is a bit funny seeing Oscar Isaac’s face in a comic, but I soon got used to it. This is such a fun comic with good adversaries for Poe and his team and they kind of go on a heist at one which was wonderful (heists are my favourite thing ever) and I can’t wait till Volume 2 is released. 5/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Denmark: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Copenhagen Detective Inspector Carl Mørck has been taken off Homicide to run a new department for unsolved crimes and he’s not happy about it. Soon things get busy when his first case concerns Merete Lynggaard, a politician who vanished five years ago. Everyone says she’s dead, he thinks they’re right. But that might not be the case, and Merete’s time is running out.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a detective thriller and The Keeper of Lost Causes did not disappoint. Carl is one of those typical cranky detectives who doesn’t work well with others, his colleagues don’t really like him but they still ask his advice on difficult cases, but he’s still a decent person who’s good at his job. It’s great to see bits of the case come together because as the reader you sometimes know more than Carl but you never get the whole story till the final chapters.

Carl Mørck’s department is in the basement of police headquarters and it’s just him and his assistant Hafez el-Assad. They’re an odd combination and provide some moments of humour. Assad is Syrian so he doesn’t always get how things work in Denmark but he’s never portrayed as stupid, in fact he’s a great help to the case, seeing things others don’t. It was really nice to see how Carl respected Assad’s religion, getting a floorplan of the station so Assad knew which direction to pray – the religious aspect of Assad’s life was so natural and just a part of him and no one made a big deal of it.

Assad is a very likeable character with some hidden talents, I enjoyed seeing him and Carl slowly start getting to know each other, each dealing with each other’s unusual habits and personal traits. Carl is definitely a character I didn’t like to start with but he grew on me, especially because he has a very dry sense of humour and is often brutally honest.

The Keeper of Lost Causes is a proper-page turner, there were revelations at the end of most chapters and a sense of desperation as the novel progressed as you learnt more about Merete and the horrible situation she’s in. 5/5.

REVIEW: Free Fire (2016)

In Boston in 1978 a gun deal in an abandoned warehouse between two gangs goes wrong and turns into a shootout as everyone tries to survive the night.

Free Fire is hilarious. Its humour might not be for everyone because it’s kind of stupid and ridiculous but it works really well. The script is razor sharp and witty, every line is brilliant and the cast just look like they’re having a great time.

Sharlto Copley does slightly mad and/or weird very well. Every line out of his mouth was perfection and had me laughing every time. He plays Vernon, the gun dealer, and Vernon has a bit of a screw loose even before the shooting starts. The rest of the cast is great but Sam Riley’s Stevo was my favourite because he was completely off the wall but kind of innocent at the same time.

This isn’t a film that delves into character backstories or anything, there’s the odd line to help flesh out a character but you don’t really need to know anything about them as it’s just focused on one night in a warehouse and how they all react to this shootout they’re in. They’re personalities and values shine through the mad situation they’re in and that’s all you need.

I don’t usually talk about sound design in my film reviews (mainly because I don’t usually notice anything especially interesting sound-related in what I watch) but I’ve got to talk about it in regards to Free Fire. There’s really clever things done in Free Fire with the dialogue. You can hear voices shouting out and you can tell where the characters are in regards to what’s on screen because it comes from all angles. There’s often a lot going on onscreen so to have the sound like that helps ground you and it’s definitely the sort of thing you get the full effect of when sitting in a cinema.

Free Fire is completely mad, absurd and hilarious. It’s a lot of fun and is well worth the price of a cinema ticket. 5/5.