comedy

READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Australia: Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan

When a young Australian con artist discovers a book titled Gould’s Book of Fish, a book with paintings of fish as well as a man’s story as a convict on Van Diemen’s Land in the 1830’s, he becomes obsessed with it. And so, begins the story of William Buelow Gould, his adventures before and after his incarceration on Van Diemen’s Land, the people he meets and how he becomes a reluctant painter of fish.

Gould’s Book of Fish is a weird one. It’s funny and gruesome and fantastical and sometimes makes very little sense at all. William Buelow Gould is a witty narrator as he recounts his life and his exploits, the way he notes his limitations and then straightaway goes against any common-sense is often farcical and hilarious. The situations he gets himself in are almost like watching a car-crash in slow-motion, you cant look away and instead are captivated and horrified.

The historical setting is an interesting yet brutal one. The descriptions throughout the novel are incredibly vivid, for instance, the way the prisoners are punished is cruel and disgusting and it doesn’t shy away from the brutalities that the prisoners experienced. Also, the way the landscape of Van Diemen’s Land (what we now call Tanzania) is described makes the location seem just as harsh and unforgiving as the people who are living there.

A lot happens in Gould’s Book of Fish and it doesn’t always seem believable. In fact, the way the story ends leaves you wondering what’s real and what’s not and even if the character of William Buelow Gould was actually a real character in the story or was he a stand in for someone else. It’s a fantastical story, especially with the prominence of the fish, each of them being related to either a significant character or event in Gould’s life. The fish are a part of him and his connection to them ends up being an almost magical thing. Though, a magical thing that’s not always logical.

I listened to Gould’s Book of Fish on audiobook, which I think certainly helped me follow the story thanks to the brilliant narrator Humphrey Bower. I don’t think I would have got on with the book if I was reading a physical copy. So much happens, and not always in a linear order, that it would perhaps be a bit of a dense book to get through. The audiobook had a great narrator though and made the nonsense story just a bit more understandable.

Gould’s Book of Fish is a weird but enjoyable read. It’s got some bizarre characters and the situations Gould ends up a part of are often bonkers and farfetched, but they’re certainly not forgettable. 4/5.

REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Seven months after the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) challenges the local authorities, who have not caught the culprit, by promoting the injustice on three billboards on the road to her hometown.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is from writer and director Martin McDonagh. This is the man behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, so if you have seen them, you’ll now at least a little of what to expect from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which is black comedy, drama and violence.

Frances McDormand is brilliant as the vengeful and hurting Mildred. She’s a woman in pain who wants justice and is not afraid to cause pain and distress in order to get it. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is trying to be understanding with what Mildred is going through, and does his best to explain that there just isn’t the evidence to catch her daughters killer, while struggling with his own demons and an unruly police force. Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a racist and violent cop and is no way a good guy and the film doesn’t paint him like one. He’s the main antagonist of this story, hurting anyone close to Mildred in order to get to her.

That’s the thing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, none of the characters are particularly likeable and all of them are very angry and mean. While you understand Mildred’s frustration it doesn’t mean she’s doing the right thing, and while Dixon does evolve as a person, he’s never completely changed or “good”, he’s still the disgusting and dangerous person he always was, just changed slightly.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is funny but it’s also super dark – the script manages to balance these two elements really well. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is tough to watch at times, remembering a scene at a dentist still makes me shudder, but the incredible performances pull you into the story and gives you a memorable film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Happy Christmas (2014)

When Jenny (Anna Kendrick) breaks up with her boyfriend she moves in with her brother Kevin (Mark Webber) and his wife Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) who are raising their young son, turning their lives on their head as she’s not the most responsible person.

Happy Christmas is a low-key family drama that focuses on its leads and allows them the space to shine. It also features one of the happiest babies I’ve ever seen in a film. A lot of the interactions between the cast and the baby seem incredibly organic, as they react to his antics. It’s really sweet and true to life. That’s the thing about Happy Christmas, due to the script, how it’s shot and the cast, it feels like you’re a spectator in their day to day lives.

Jenny is an interesting character as she does little to endear you from the start, getting incredibly drunk and then being unable to babysit the next day, but she does slowly start to grow though she retains her selfish streak. Again, it great to see a character somewhat mature of a short space of time but they still retain qualities that are uniquely them.

Jenny’s relationship with Kelly is really the heart of the film. They are almost polar opposites in personality, but they find common-ground and begin to care about each other. Jenny teaches Kelly there’s more to her than being a wife and mother, and Kelly shows Jenny that good things can happen if you put more of an effort into life it can make you happy.

Happy Christmas is one of those alternate Christmas films. At its heart it’s about family and relationships, but nothing about the characters and their stories are too perfect or cliché. It’s a true to life comedy and it’s well worth the watch. 3/5.

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.

REVIEW: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

When five friends go to a remote cabin for a weekend break, they soon discover they have got more than they bargained for and they are all in danger.

The Cabin in the Woods is a good horror film because it knows what it is, has the usual tropes but turns them on their head. The five friends all fit the standard clichés; there’s Curt (Chris Hemsworth) the jock, Jules (Anna Hutchison) the sexy, popular one, Holden (Jesse Williams) the quiet one, Marty (Fran Kranz) the stoner, and Dana (Kristen Connolly) the good girl.

The film embraces the horror stereotypes and the fact that so many people watching it will know all the genre clichés and it does it’s best to subvert expectations. It feels both self-referential and new and intriguing. It’s equal parts weird, scary, gruesome and funny – and sometimes all those things happen at once. The script is witty and clever, with some of the best lines coming from stoner Marty, his attitude to the weird goings-on is the best.

Honestly, The Cabin in the Woods is the sort of film to watch, knowing as little as possible. It starts out as the typical five-friends-go-to-a-remote-cabin-in-the-woods horror cliché but it becomes so much more than that. It’s bonkers and fun and creepy and is well-worth a watch. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Death of Stalin (2017)

After Stalin dies, the regime is thrown into chaos as members of the Committee struggle to take power.

The Death of Stalin is completely bonkers and stupidly funny. The situations these men find themselves in are hard to believe, and even more so when you remember the film is somewhat based on real life events.

The main conflict is between spymaster Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) and politician Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), both of them trying to be one step ahead and to get as many other allies as possible. The conversations between the two of them are full of double-meanings and it’s clear to see how clever both men are, especially compared to men like Stalin’s Deputy, Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor).

The whole cast is brilliant to be honest but got to have a couple of honourable mentions. Firstly, Jason Isaacs, who as soon as he appears on screen as General Georgy Zhukov, steals just about every scene he’s in, and Rupert Friend as Stalin’s son Vasily – he doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on but has some of the best lines.

The Death of Stalin is farcical and funny but then it does have this weird unsettling edge to it, where you think, “Should I be laughing at this?” It’s based on true events where people were sent to the gulags or shot or put on lists, and once you’re on that list who knows what could happen to you. People lived this fear and tyranny and while the officials were squabbling amongst themselves people were dying. Perhaps it’s because the cast all use their native American or British accents (or a more exaggerated versions of them) that it helps make it all seem a bit surreal and adds a bit of distance to the reality of the real life situation.

It’s thanks to a witty script and story that roars along at a pace that while watching it you tend to forget about the historical context. The Death of Stalin is absurd and if you like the humour and incompetence of the characters in The Thick of It and In The Loop, you’ll probably enjoy The Death of Stalin a lot. 4/5.