romance

REVIEW: The Shape of Water (2017)

In a top-secret research facility in 1960s Baltimore, a lonely cleaner named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) befriends a mysterious amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who is being terrorised by government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).

The Shape of Water has a magical quality to it. The setting and particularly the music, gives it almost a golden age of Hollywood feel. Especially as the story is almost a classic story of love, friendship and good trying to triumph over evil. It’s almost like a fairy-tale and the way the film is bookended by some narration definitely adds to that feeling.

All the performances in The Shape of Water are great. Sally Hawkins does a brilliant job at conveying Elisa’s thoughts and feelings without ever saying a word. You believe in the connection she’s forming with this creature and seeing the two of the bond is lovely. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a menacing presence from the first moment he appears. Every time he’s on screen your eyes are on him as he’s like a coiled spring ready to explode at any moment.

The Shape of Water is a bit tonally uneven. At its centre is a sweet story but then there’s sudden bouts of blood and violence – most of which are courtesy of Strickland. It’s also got some surprising moments of humour, a good number of them were from Elisa’s neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) who’s friendship with Elisa is lovely.

The Shape of Water is one of those films where I appreciated it more than I liked it. While for many it is one of their favourite films of the year, for me it was a lovely film with a lot of heart, but I don’t think it will stick with me for very long. 3/5.

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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.

READ THE WORLD – Egypt: A Certain Woman by Hala El Badry

Nahid is a woman determined to go on a journey of self-discovery and understanding. She finds love and sex with novelist Omar, who is stuck in a loveless but marriage with volatile Maggie, while Nahid herself has chosen to keep up a facade of a marriage to Mustafa, a man she does not love for the sake of her middle-class family. This is Nahid’s story of discovery and self-love.

A Certain Woman is told not only from Nahid’s point of view but Omar’s, Maggie’s and Mustafa’s too. These changes in voice aren’t always obvious as there’s no clear signposts at the start of each subchapter who we’re now following. You have to figure out who’s head your now in through their conversations and wishes, sometimes it’s easier to figure out than others.

A Certain Woman is about Nahid’s quest for liberation. Not liberation from societies norms or from a man, but from her own set beliefs that inhibit her from following her heart and finding fulfilment, whether that’s in regard to independence, desire or love. She stays in her loveless marriage because of her children and a fear of trusting someone else with her happiness.

While A Certain Woman is on the short side with just over 200 pages, it’s quite a slow read due to the sometimes-delirious rambling thoughts of Nahid. She, and Omar, frequently change their mind about what they want and the way the story was written made it difficult to connect with either of them.

Nahid is an archaeologist and the sections with her being an archaeologist and finding joys in the digs she was a part of were my favourite parts of the book, but besides that I find it a bit of a slog to get through. A Certain Woman is a romance story and on the whole, that is not my go to genre of choice so maybe that’s why I didn’t particularly care for Nahid nor the situation she was in.

READ THE WORLD – Samoa: Freelove by Sia Figiel

It is 1985 in Western Samoa and Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” rules the airwaves. Seventeen and a half-year-old Star Trek fanatic Inosia Alofafua Afatasi is sent to the capital, Apia, to buy three giant white threads. As she waits at the bus stop, Mr Ioane Viliamu, her science and maths teacher and the son of the pastor, and in turn, her spiritual brother, stops to offer her a ride in his red pickup truck. Inosia is faced with choice, does she take the ride or wait for the bus?

Freelove is a story of forbidden romance and a young woman who is smart and capable but still has a lot to learn. Inosia is very academically smart and loves science and space, in part thanks to her obsession with Star Trek. I think having a character who is repeatedly told to be beautiful, also be smart and has a nerdy obsession is quite different.

It took a little while to get used to how Freelove is written. There’s no speech marks when characters talk, instead there’s a new paragraph when someone is speaking and there’s no real signifier when it’s back to being Inosia’s thoughts. You definitely have to pay attention and when there are conversations they flow very quickly. I liked how the book features Samoan though. Sometimes when characters talked it would first be in Samoan and then have the English translation next to it.

There is sexual content in Freelove and I appreciated that any sex was consensual, and the characters were constantly talking about how they were feeling, if anything hurt or they wanted to stop, and they listened to one another. The romance between Inosia and Ioane was interesting because both of them knew what they were doing was “wrong” or wouldn’t be accepted in their village. This was because of the age difference, the fact they are spiritually related to one another and the fact that they weren’t traditionally married. They go into things with their eyes open but as you read you can’t help but wonder when or how everything is going to go wrong for them. It gives you a sense of foreboding that’s never really satisfied.

Freelove is a quick and relatively easy read once you get used to the writing style. The descriptions of Idosia’s day to day life and her family are vivid and while the romance felt a bit rushed to begin with, it’s clear that these two care about one another deeply. 3/5.

REVIEW: October Kiss (2015)

Free-spirited Poppy (Ashley Williams) never sticks at a job for long but when she is hired as a temporary nanny by workaholic Ryan (Sam Jaeger) to look after his young children Zoe (Hannah Cheramy) and Zach (Kiefer O’Reilly) she finds something she’s good at and maybe even loves.

October Kiss is a Hallmark original movie and it’s a very cheesy seasonal movie but I couldn’t help but find it somewhat endearing. October Kiss is Halloween overload. There’s so many decorations, pumpkin carving and costumes (some of which look really rather good) that it’s sometimes a little overwhelming for a Brit who’s never had a “proper” Halloween.

The cast is good and I was pleasantly surprised by the child actors – they never really feel like they’re over-acting. The chemistry between Williams and Jaeger isn’t always there but when they are with the kids it does feel like a real family as everyone slots into place.

There’s a lot of the usual tropes here but it somehow doesn’t manage to be grating. There’s the absent father, the miscommunication and the perceived threat of a new girlfriend/mother for the children in the form of Ryan’s work colleague Abigail (Miranda Frigon). It’s all rather predictable but it’s still a pleasant watch.

That just about sums October Kiss up. Nothing ground-breaking, an easy-watch and one of the better seasonal films I’ve seen. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he has too much fun for that. Neither being kicked out of the finest boarding schools in England nor his father’s disapproval can stop him drinking, gambling or waking up in the arms of women or men. As Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, along with his best friend Percy (who he may be in love with) and his younger sister Felicity, he has one final year of fun until he must return home and to be a part of his father’s business. But things go awry when Monty’s usual recklessness turns their trip abroad into a manhunt across Europe, putting himself and those he cares about in danger.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is so much fun. It’s set in the 1700’s which allows for a different kind of travelling adventure. They can’t get money easily, there’s now quick communication to back home if things go wrong so when you encounter highway men or pirates you’re on your own with just your wits.

Monty, Percy and Felicity are a great trio of characters with interesting dynamics. Felicity was the one I loved straight away. She’s a young lady due to go to finishing school when all she really wants to do is go to the school’s her brother has been kicked out of. But due to her gender and the times that’s not possible, no matter how smart and eager she is. Percy is the nephew of a nobleman but he has never really fitted in to high society due to his Barbadian mother. Even though his childhood must’ve been difficult he is warm and kind and cares about Monty a lot. Monty took longer to grow on me as the problems he ends up facing really help him grow and learn more about himself. He’s selfish and only thinks about how other people’s issues affects him, he’s a charmer and doesn’t think before he acts – all qualities that are often simultaneously infuriating and endearing.

Monty’s voice shines through in the writing, making this 500-page novel fly by. Also, the fact that Monty ends up in almost non-stop escapades definitely helps make it a book that’s difficult to put down. From England, to France and beyond their adventures and the mystery they uncover often verges into the absurd but it’s all told with such charm and wit that it ends up being quite brilliant. Along with all the excitement and threat of danger, there’s still quieter moments between the characters that show they aren’t necessarily cut out for this kind of thing but being together makes them stronger and better.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a great historical adventure story with a bisexual main character, an engaging romance and a colourful cast of characters. 5/5.

REVIEW: Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)

In Victorian England, independent and headstrong farm owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors, sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), successful and mature bachelor Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge).

Far from the Madding Crowd is a beautiful film, in every sense of the word. The cinematography really shows of the beauty of the British countryside, as well as how beautiful the cast is. The music is gorgeous, emotive and very fitting to the story. The story itself is captivating and for an adaptation of a nineteenth century novel it’s almost surprisingly modern in how Everdene is presented as an independent young woman.

The film never really does what you expect with these characters – unless you’ve read the book of course. You expect there to be strong antagonism between Boldwood and Oak but you see they respect each other and the role they each play in Everdene’s life. The three suitors all have good and bad points and it’s clear to see why Everdene may want to be with one over another, or not be tied to one man at all.

Carey Mulligan is a fantastic lead, often giving a very subtle performance, and the whole cast is brilliant – the chemistry between Mulligan and Schoenaerts is electric. The scenes between them two were by far my favourite as they navigate the roles they play in each other’s lives.

Far from the Madding Crowd is a gorgeous film with compelling and understandable characters. 4/5.