Blogtober

REVIEW: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

In October of 1994 three student filmmakers disappeared in the woods near Burkittsville, Maryland, while shooting a documentary. A year later their footage was found.

The Blair Witch Project is one of those films that I knew of but hadn’t watched because I am a wuss. I did wonder how effective The Blair Witch Project would be with so much of it has become a part of popular culture and referenced in various other types of media, so I was aware of certain shots and the general story before actually watching it. I’m pleased to say it was still nerve-wracking and creepy.

The pace of The Blair Witch Project is really smart. The opening twenty minutes is the three students talking to residents of Burkittsville, hearing the stories about the Blair Witch and the other weird and horrifying things that have happened in the woods outside town. This sets the tone and makes you expect weird and creepy things to happen, and soon they do.

The trio of filmmakers all give great performances and it’s easy to see why people could believe the events of The Blair Witch Project actually happened. The fear, panic and stress is clear to see and their reactions to the unexplainable events are understandable. Heather is the projects director and she’s the one who is always filming everything and to start with doesn’t seem to mind the creepy things that are happening around them as in her mind it’ll make her documentary even better. She’s joined by Josh, who she knows well, and Mike, who she doesn’t, and as things get weird, tensions rise.

As the trio bicker as they traipse around the woods, getting more and more disorientated, the addition of unexplainable and strange piles of rocks, sounds and bundles of twigs gets everyone feeling anxious and just wanting to go home.

The Blair Witch Project is a classic of the horror genre and it’s the film that really kickstarted the found footage subgenre of films. As someone who very rarely watches horror films in general, never mind the found footage subgenre, The Blair Witch Project is tense and eerie from the outset and all the tropes that are so common now, are effective and unsettling. 5/5.

REVIEW: Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015)

When a zombie apocalypse breaks out in their small town, best friends and scouts Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) – along with cocktail waitress Denise (Sarah Dumont) – must use their scouting skills to make it out alive.

This is one of those films where it started out and I was like, “Yeah, this is alright, a bit generic but fine” but then something clicked and I ended up having a great time with it.

The actual proper zombie battle stuff does take a while to get going, instead it spends time focussing on the friendship between the three scouts. The three scouts all have the sort of personalities you’d expect; Ben is the normal, relatable one, Carter is the loudmouth one and Augie is the more awkward one. They bicker and fall out as some of them feel like they’re getting to old for scouts while others still love it and it’s all very normal teen friend drama but in scout uniforms.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse is actually really funny. There are clever visual gags, one-liners, gross out and humour (they’re teen boys – what do you expect?!), and just a lot of laugh out loud moments. Perhaps I went into this with rather low expectations, but this was far funnier than I was expecting it to be.

The comedic timing and chemistry between the three friends and Denise is really good. Denise is badass and how she fits into the dynamic of this kind of dorky friendship group works surprisingly well. The four of them each bring their own skills to the zombie fighting and the action sequences are all well shot and very entertaining.

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse has a solid mix of gore, crudity and laughs which makes it very enjoyable in its ridiculousness. Like honestly, there’s zombie cats and it has possibly the best use of a Dolly Parton song I’ve ever seen and that whole sequence, just like the film in general, is just so much fun. 4/5.

FRIDAY 56: The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed

The Friday 56 is a weekly feature hosted by Freda’s Voice. The aim is to share a few sentences of a book (whether it’s one you’re currently reading or not) so other people might be enticed to pick it up.

Here’s the rules:
– Turn to page 56 or 56% in your ebook
– Find any sentence – or a few, just don’t spoil it
– Post it
– Add the URL of your post to the Linky on Freda’s most recent post

“Sometimes my parents got mistaken for their own assistants, or people think they’ve stumbled into the wrong meetings, or their assistants think they know better than my parents do and it becomes a whole thing, even though both of them are amazing at what they do, or they wouldn’t have gotten to where they are to begin with.”

That was from page 56 of the paperback edition of The Black Kids by Christina Hammonds Reed which I am currently reading.

READ THE WORLD – Mauritius: The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah

Translated by Geoffrey Strachan.

Ten-year-old Raj is oblivious to the Second World War being fought far beyond his tiny island home. His mother is his sole company while his father works as a prison guard, so Raj dreams of friendship. One day, from the far-away world, a ship brings to the island Jewish exiles who have been refused entry to Israel. David, a recently orphaned boy of his own age, becomes the friend that he has longed for, and Raj takes it upon himself to help David escape from the prison. As they flee through sub-tropical forests and devastating storms, the boys battle hunger and malaria – and forge a friendship only death could destroy.

The Last Brother is one of those stories where a much older character reminisces about certain events of their past and how it affected them. In this instance, Raj is an old man close to his eighties and he’s thinking about David, their friendship and the games and adventures they had and what he would’ve done differently if he could. This means you are kind of aware of how things are probably going to turn out before you get to that part of the story.

Something I really liked about The Last Brother was how it made me think about the Second World War from a completely different perspective. As someone who’s British and grew up in the UK, in school I learnt about the Second World War from the UK perspective and about the European countries (and America and Japan) involved with the conflict. The world is a big place and while it’s something I hadn’t thought about before, there would naturally be parts of the world where the conflict didn’t touch or the people, especially children, were unaware of what was happening between other nations.

The difference between adult-Raj and child-Raj’s narrative voice is distinct and I feel the author really captured the innocence a ten-year-old has, even if they have experienced violence they are resilient and still want to have fun with a friend. Both Raj and David have experienced personal tragedy though Raj can’t comprehend how and why David and the other Jewish refugees have ended up in his small corner of the world, and in a prison as well. David doesn’t talk about his life or how he became an orphan much, as the reader with prior knowledge of the persecution of the Jews in Europe you can see his trauma but with Raj being so unaware of world events, he doesn’t see David as a victim, he just sees a friend.

The way Raj and David form such a firm friendship in such a short space of time is sweet and realistic. As is how far Raj will go to try and protect David even if his plans are misguided. The Last Brother is a deceptively simple story because it’s largely told through the eyes of a child, but that makes it all the more affecting.

Sci-Fi Month 2020

ARTWORK by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com. QUOTE from Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam.

Even though 2020 seems to be dragging on forever, we are getting closer to the end of the year and November brings Sci-Fi Month, hosted by Lisa and Imyril.

As the name suggests, Sci-Fi Month is all about celebrating all things sci-fi, whether that’s books, films, TV show, games or podcasts. It’s the chance to focus on the sci-fi stuff you’ve been putting on the backburner, whether it’s speculative fiction, epic space operas, time travel adventures or parallel worlds.

There’s a couple of readathons happening during the month if that’s your kind of thing. Jorie Loves a Story is hosting a readathon of Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott while Imyril is hosting a readathon of Golden Witchbreed by Mary Gentle.

While there’s the readathons and some challenges still to be announced, there’s no requirements or goals to take part in Sci-Fi Month, the main point is to consume some sci-fi, a little or a lot, and have some fun. See imyril’s blog for more information and to sign up to Sci-Fi Month and follow @SciFiMonth on Twitter and use the hashtag #SciFiMonth to take part in all the chats or when sharing your posts.

While I like sci-fi books, I don’t currently have a lot of them on their TBR, in fact I only have two: Brilliance by Marcus Sakey and Gemina Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. I’ll try and read them both in November but Gemina will be the priority as that chonky book has been on my shelf for far too long.

I also plan to watch and review a lot of sci-fi films next month. I’ve had a look through what sci-fi films I’ve got in my Netflix and Prime watchlists and pulled together a selection of what it’d like to watch. There’s a whole load of different types of sci-fi, superpowers, aliens, and AI, and from different countries too. Here’s some of the films I’ll hopefully be watching next month – any thoughts or recommendations based on this list would, as always, be much appreciated:

What are some of your favourite sci-fi media? I’m always looking for sci-fi book and film recommendations. My favourite kind of sci-fi (or sometimes it’s science-fact) is when people are really competent at their jobs e.g. The Martian, Apollo 13 and Hidden Figures.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Super Long Book Titles

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week it’s all about super long book titles. These are all books I’ve read, and I think some of these book titles are deceptive as when you count the words there’s not as many as you think, they just have a lot of syllables. I noticed a lot of these books are non-fiction – those semi colons definitely help book titles to become longer!

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid by Sid Lowe
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker
Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph by Yusra Mardini
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil

Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan
Roger Federer & Rafael Nadal: The Lives and Careers of Two Tennis Legends by Sebastián Fest
Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
How to be a Heroine (Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much) by Samantha Ellis

Have you read any of these long-titled books? And do you find some books don’t have so many words in the title as you first think they do?

REVIEW: Herself (2020)

Trigger warnings for domestic violence.

After young mother Sandra (Clare Dunne) escapes her abusive husband, she fights to give her young daughters a home, going the unconventional route against a broken housing system by deciding to build her own home.

Herself is a brilliant and impressive film. From the opening scene I was captivated by Sandra and her story, her fight for survival. Herself opens with Sandra singing and dancing with her daughters Emma and Molly (Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann) in the kitchen but the arrival of their father Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson) brings all that to a screeching halt. The tension between Sandra and Gary is palpable and, like Sandra, you’re just waiting for inevitable explosion.

From that shocking opening you see Sandra and her girls are now living in a hotel room and are just waiting for a housing opportunity to come up as Sandra works two jobs. Herself is an unflinching look at both the housing crisis and domestic abuse. Sandra is questioned as to why she didn’t leave sooner rather than have her ex-husband be asked, why he would hit her in the first place. And once Sandra has removed herself from that situation it is so very difficult for her and her girls to have some stability and somewhere to call home. There are forms to fill in and hoops to jump through and when a house does become available, there’s hundreds of people ahead of her on the waiting list.

When Sandra learns about self-build houses, she thinks that’s the way she can have a home for her girls. One of the most unexpectedly delightful things about Herself is the soundtrack and the montages of Sandra and her newfound friends working together to build a home. Catchy, upbeat pop songs accompany the scenes of the house slowly coming together, and you can see how as the house becomes a reality, Sandra starts to come into her own. The people around her; a fellow mum, a colleague and her friends from the squat they’re in – they all become a stronger family unit than Sandra ever had before.

Clare Dunne, who also co-wrote Herself, is fantastic as Sandra. She plays the different sides of a woman trying to build herself up again after being knocked down for so long so sensitively. She doesn’t have many big shouty scenes, though when she does her desperation is clear to see, instead she is quiet and just trying to hold things together for her children. She’s sad and scared and relieved and a whole load of other complicated emotions and Dunne puts them across so well. the young actresses who play her daughters are also brilliant and their relationship is the foundation Herself is built on.

Herself is about a woman finding a family, herself, and a strength she perhaps forgot she had. It’s empowering and thought-provoking and an emotional watch. 5/5.

REVIEW: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

The centuries old vampire Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) comes to England to seduce his barrister Jonathan Harker’s (Keanu Reeves) fiancée Mina Murray (Winona Ryder) and inflict havoc in the foreign land.

As I was watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I realised I didn’t really know the original Dracula story. Dracula (and vampires in general) is a character that’s so ingrained in our popular culture so I know the general things of what makes a vampire and I’ve seen so many variations of the story like Dracula Untold (2014) or Van Helsing (2004) but never the origin of Count Dracula so watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a weird experience. I knew the names, places and the general story beats but seeing them all play out on screen was fun – though obviously I don’t know how true it is to the source material.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is visually interesting. The costumes, the set design and make up are all so striking. The make up used to make Gary Oldman look thousands of years old was so good that you just took his Dracula at face value so when he suddenly appears looking young and how Oldman looked in the early 90s it’s very effective.

The use of lighting and shadows adds to the creepy feel of Dracula’s home and the whole story. The way Dracula’s, and other creatures, shadows work, seemingly to touch people while they are the other side of the room, increases the uncomfortable feeling the humans have when in their presence.

The acting is a bit all over the place really. Keanu Reeves has a terrible British accent and both he and Winona Ryder are a bit wooden, especially in their scenes together. Somehow it doesn’t break the film though. Anthony Hopkins plays Professor Van Helsing and looks like he’s having a whale of a time with it. He swings from one emotion to another, serious professor to almost overexcited child at what is happening around him. Oldman’s Dracula is suitably unsettling and captivating and sells the obsessive love he has for Mina.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is over the top (the bright red blood, the dramatic dialogue and score) but it totally works. Watching it for the first time now, almost thirty years after it was released, there’s a certain charm about Bram Stoker’s Dracula that we don’t see as often in modern films. It’s proper old-fashioned filmmaking with striking sets, impressive make up and beautiful costumes. I often feel films that are set in the past, in this case the late 1800s, have a timelessness to them, so the potentially outdated effects etc just help make the film feel like a perfect time capsule. Bram Stoker’s Dracula really is worth the watch if you enjoy classic stories of good vs evil. 4/5.

REVIEW: Practical Magic (1998)

There’s said to be a curse on the Owens women – any man who they fall in love with will surely die. Witch sisters Sally and Gillian (Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman) are unlucky in love and just trying to get by in a town that’s scared of them and their family. But after Gilliam’s boyfriend dies suddenly and a detective (Aidan Quinn) starts asking questions, things get more difficult for them.

Practical Magic is just a delight and the fact that it has a 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a travesty! Do these people not appreciate and love the power of sisterhood, love and female relationships?! Because this is what Practical Magic is. It’s like a love letter to sisters and family and the power women can have, even when things go a bit wrong, and it’s brilliant.

Sally and Gillian were raised by the eccentric aunts, Frances (Stockard Channing) and Jet (Dianne Wiest), and the relationships these four women have are the heart and the soul of this film. The aunts are funny and weird, but they love their nieces so much and try to teach them all they know about magic. Sally has more of innate gift for it, but Gillian has some powers too, but their biggest gift is how in tune with one another they are. Bullock and Kidman have amazing chemistry and they feel like sisters, they argue and laugh and know each other better than anyone. If I’m being honest the tone of Practical Magic is kinda all over the place, but this film definitely wouldn’t have worked so well without these two leads.

Speaking of tone; there’s comedy, horror, romance, crime – it’s a mix of so many things but it works! The whole aesthetic for Practical Magic is peak 90s witchy vibes. The costumes, the setting (especially the house where the majority of the film takes place), the fact that Sally’s job involves creating plant-based remedies – to coin a popular internet term, it’s all very cottagecore. The soundtrack is very 90s too but there’s so many good songs on it from Stevie Nicks, Faith Hill, Joni Mitchell and more. The score by Alan Silvestri is great too. A lot of it feels homely and suits the setting of a small town on a small island where everyone knows each other.

Honestly Practical Magic was so much fun and so heart-warming. I often found myself with a huge smile on my face because of these women and their love and respect for one another. Yeah, the “big bad” of the film is them apparently not being able to have a lasting relationship with a man, but the driving force for the Owens family, and even some of the other women in the town, is love for one another and the lengths they’ll go to keep each other safe. 5/5.

The Finally Fall Book Tag

Who doesn’t love a seasonal tag! I think the Finally Fall tag was created by Alina Melena on YouTube (not 100% sure as the original video no longer exists) and I saw it over on Bookables channel.

1. In fall, the air is crisp and clear: name a book with a vivid setting!
I didn’t like the book a lot, but I won’t deny that Uprooted by Naomi Novik has a very vivid setting and it’s the main thing I remember about it.

2. Nature is beautiful… but also dying: name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.
The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne has such good writing that’s powerful and sad and is about a teenage girl trying to understand how her relationship wasn’t OK and it was actually emotionally and sexually abusive.

3. Fall is back to school season: share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.
I work at a university and while my job is all year round, there is a sense on new beginning when the students come back at the end of September. I’ve read a lot of non-fiction thanks to my Read the World Project and I’ve learnt a lot about different cultures and countries. I think The Wife’s Tale: A Personal History by Aida Edemariam was one of the ones where I learnt the most though as I knew nothing about Ethiopia’s history.

4. In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be a part of.
It’s so easy to say the Weasley’s and while they’ll be an honourable mention, I’m going to say Izzy’s small but awesome family/friend unit from The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven. I love her relationship with her grandmother and her best friend Ajita and they’d be an awesome, fun and supportive group to be a part of.

5. The colourful leaves are piling up on the ground: show us a pile of fall-coloured spines!
Good job I was at my mum’s when I was drafting this post as I don’t have any TBR books that have autumnal colours on their spine. So all but one of these (A Keeper) I’ve read.

From top to bottom we have:
The Door in the Tree by William Corlett
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Illuminae by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
A Keeper by Graham Norton
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
The Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore

6. Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: share a book wherein somebody is telling a story.
This was a hard one to think of a book for, I’ve definitely read books that were like a story inside a story, but it took me ages to think of one. In the end I remembered The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet, in that a creature tells a story of a fantasy world.

7. The nights are getting darker: share a dark, creepy read.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a dark and creepy book. Thinking back, I’ll mention The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro. It’s a creepy story with vampires and conspiracy theories and from what I remember there’s some really eerie moments.

8. The days are getting colder: name a short, heart-warming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.
I wouldn’t say it’s short or even heart-warming, but it is a lot of fun and it’s set somewhere warm and sunny – Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book I’d call “heart-warming”, but fun contemporary stories are always a good shout on dark nights.

9. Fall (luckily, it’s my favourite season) returns every year: name an old favourite that you’d like to return to soon.
There are so many books I’d like to reread but I think I’m going to go with The Passage and The Twelve by Justin Cronin. I’ve still not read the last book in the trilogy, The City of Mirrors, so I’d love to reread the series and finally finish it and see what happens to this huge cast of characters. I’d also like to revisit The Magician’s House quartet by William Corlett, of which The Door in the Tree is the second book, as that was a childhood favourite series.

10. Fall is the perfect time for cosy reading nights: share your favourite cosy reading “accessories”!
Definitely my blue fuzzy blanket. Well, technically it’s a Slanket (a blanket with sleeves) but I don’t often use the sleeves, instead I just have it on my legs as I read.

11. Spread the autumn appreciation and tag some people!
I think this tag has been around for a while so no doubt a lot of you have done it before but consider yourself tagged if you want!