5 September 2011

Reckless - Cornelia Funke

Following her extremely popular Inkheart series (also made into a film starring Brendan Frasier), Cornelia Funke comes up with another insightful take on the adult fairy tale. Drawing from classic tales such as 'Through the Looking Glass', 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Rapunzel' as well as various other fairy tales, this story is fast paced and enchanting.

Jacob Reckless has been going through the mirror for years. He knows the world behind it almost better than his own - he even calls it home. But now everything has changed. His brother has followed him though and has been clawed by a ferocious Goyl, whose stony skinned race are slowly taking over the land. Jacob will try anything to save his brother, but this world isn't making it easy.

This book is reminiscent of a few other writers works who have tried their own interpretations of fairy tales. Perhaps the most notable is John Connoly's The Book of Lost Things, whose world is also riddled with elements of fairy tales. Another notable writer is Gregory Maguire, whose retelling of The Wizard of Oz (Wicked) has been made into a successful theatre production.

However, this story has become its own with the great imagination of its author, who dreams up entire underground cities, as well as creature species and interesting characters. The fairy tales are entwined into it with sophistication and newer, scarier ones are told in their stead. Knife-fingered men lurk in the forests, ready to make your skin into clothing. Gingerbread houses are so alluring they lull their trespassers into a soothing sleep, locking the gate behind them.

The plot is a great credit to Cornelia Funke, as many fairytale based stories can get too lost in their original forms. Here, she creates a set of entirely new heroes and villains to build her world around, and includes a rather good political plot as well as a few good twists. The characters, who are altogether very good, may not be entirely relatable. Jacob, for example, is rather aloof to begin with, which may cause the reader to warm to him less.

The story is centred around the themes of love - in a familial, friendly and romantic sense - and gives the reader a heartwarming idea of how the characters interest and feel about each other. The style is easy to read, almost too easy, as it is difficult to put it down.

It is clear that the book was meant for a teen and adult audience who are more than familiar with the fantasy and fairy tale genres. If this sounds like you, then this book will be just the thing you may be looking for. It deserves a 9 out of 10.


The sequel, Fearless, is out in 2013.

30 August 2011

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Victoria is an 18 year-old orphan, who is now homeless. But there is one thing that may save her; the language of flowers.

As we read through the book we discover there is more to her than we first thought. There is a bitter, hidden past that seethes underneath the narrative. there are some good memories too, but all of this has an undercurrent of guilt mingled with longing.

The book is written very well, with a lot of emotion being displayed as well as an interesting fascination with flowers and their meanings. The content makes the reader want to learn more about the main character and her past and she is so multi layered we wonder where her emotions come from. In fact, all of the characters are quite complex and realistic, making the reader feel like they know them personally.

One of the things that could be improved on is the ending. Although it is realistic enough, it comes as a slight shock. As it is written in the first person, the reader gains a good insight into the mind of the character. However, the change in her mind that we see seems rather abrupt compared to the thoughts we are privy to throughout.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story is the context concerning the language of flowers. In the Victorian period, couples forbidden to see each other or marry would often use bouquets to send messages. Each flower had a different meaning that the recipient would find out before sending a reply. For example, in the book Hazel means reconciliation and a yellow rose means infidelity.

The way that this idea is entwined into the life of an orphan girl is simple and well thought through. As a young girl she learns the language of flowers and then later uses it in floristry to develop a good business.

The main themes of the story seems to be the lack or abundance of love and emotion, and how it affects people's lives. The protagonist shows a need for love, and yet a hatred of others. We see why in the many flashbacks from her past.

There are claims that this author could be the next Joanne Harris (the author of Chocolat). This may be a little bit too much of a presumption as it needs a bit of work to get to that kind of standard. Joanne describes foods to the point of you salivating, therefore we as readers need to almost smell the roses, so to speak. Unfortunately the authors style is in need of a bit of a fine tune, and as previously stated, the ending needs a bit of work as it didn't quite flow with the rest of the book.

Maybe with a bit of work, Vanessa Diffenbaugh could be capable of some very poignant literary works. As for now, The Language of Flowers gets an 8 out of 10.



For the Wikipedia page on the language of flowers, click this. For flowers and their meanings, click this.



Conan The Barbarian

This film hasn't had a lot of publicity in the weeks prior to its release, but now that people have seen it for the first time, there should be.

Conan has been around for a while now, becoming famous from the pages of the original books by Robert E. Howard, as well as featuring in comics by Marvel and being written about by various other authors. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first to play him on the big screen, and he immediately shot to fame.

So with this in mind, how did this film work out?

The plot is rather similar to that of the 1987 film, where Conan sets out to avenge his father and also rescues a Princess. However, it has to be said that there is a lot of depth and vision in this 2011 version. The scenes are both bloody and brutal as people get killed in rather... imaginative ways. There is an air of magic and war that the fantasy lover would adore. And amongst all that is the character of Conan himself.

I have not read the books, but I was reliably informed that the film had indeed done them justice. Conan is every bit the warrior, but also the human. He likes to drink himself into a stupor with his winnings and have lots of beautiful women around him, and here the film fails to disappoint.

The acting was very good, but of course Jason Momoa, playing Conan, simply stole the show, even with the likes of Ron Pearlman (HellBoy), Stephen Lang (Avatar) and Rose McGowan (Charmed) in supporting roles.

The end was the only part that could have been better. At any moment I was waiting for something else to happen, but it never did, and I was left feeling like they left out a bit.

A fast paced and exciting film, it shows all the promise of becoming a firm favourite with fantasy and comic book lovers alike. An 8 out of 10.

21 August 2011

Ultraviolet - R.J. Anderson

This book is something of a mystery.

It is the story of a girl with extra-ordinary abilities; to see sound as colourful shapes, to attribute meanings and colours to letters and words - synesthesia. Alison wakes up in a hospital after having what appears to be a psychotic episode in which she claimed she had killed someone. as a result of this, she gets sent to a mental institution.

The story is beautifully written. It provides an insight into both the world of a synesthete (which is an actual neurological phenomenon) and that of a person in a mental institution, who may or may not have a mental condition. The feelings of the protagonist are so well described that the reader can very much sympathise with her, even whilst thinking that she may be crazy.

As said in my sister's blog, it certainly is a tale of two halves, and this is where my initial comment comes into play. Although there were many clues and I had already guessed where the story was going, it came as rather a surprise when the book took a somewhat drastic turn from the mental institution when we finally learn what happened. And to be honest, that may not have been a good thing.

The end was somewhat unimpressive compared to the rest of the book. It was almost off topic and rather less life-like than your average person who picked up the book on the blurb alone would have liked. The author obviously wanted it to end like that, but the way it was done was sudden and therefore quite a shock to the system.

Unfortunately, for this lapse and for the ending overall, the score is rather a lot lower than it could have been: 4 out of 10.

16 August 2011

Blueeyedboy - Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris shows us her darker, more twisted side with this stunning novel about a murderous blue eyed boy and his life.

Completely online, the book shows us the posts of the protagonist; the fiction, open to the public, and the restricted posts, where his true nature comes alive. The online world becomes a sort of cocoon from the rest of the world for him; it allows him to have friends and a life away from his suffocating mother. The way the book is written means that the lines of fact and fiction blend together so well you don't know what's real in his story. Could the dark fiction really be a guise for the truth?

The story is full of twists to keep the reader interested, as well as the intriguing murder of an innocent blind girl. Family relationships take centre stage in this story, as we see an overbearing and violent single mother juxtaposed with what might have been a lovely family. But life is never that simple, and that family were not all that lovely, in the end.

Death, of course, features largely in the book. It exists rather a lot in the main characters fiction, in the place where he goes to do things he otherwise would not do. Mental health is also a subtext, as most of the characters seem more than a little unbalanced.

Joanne Harris writes in an almost flawless manner, giving her characters scarily realistic personalities and pushing those unwanted thoughts of ours to foreground. What if the boy next door was a murderer? What if what people write in their stories was actually an autobiography?

All I can say is that this has one heck of a finale. For anyone who has a slightly darker imagination, or anyone particularly interested in online writing and murderers, this one may be for you. For Joanne Harris readers, you may like to know that there are a couple of friendly places lurking among this story that may just please you.

10 out of 10 for a wonderfully compelling and gripping read.

(For a similar read, try Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players)

15 August 2011

Delirium - Lauren Oliver

'What if Love was a Disease?'

Lena has always lived in fear of the disease called 'Deliria Amor Nervosa'. The scientists have developed a way to eradicate it entirely, and now each person has the procedure after their 18th Birthday. She is looking forward to it; she doesn't want to end up like her mother. Everything was going smoothly.. that is, until she fell in love.

This dystopian novel by Lauren Oliver is by far, much better than her previous effort. It subtly shows a delicate relationship forming as well as making a believable narrative on what seems like a not-so-different world from our own. We soon find out differently - that uncureds have curfews, are separated from the opposite sex. These people are fenced in to their own city with fear of the one thing that our society seems to hold the most dear; Love.

Like her other novel, Before I Fall, this is also a teen fiction and therefore may not suit adult readers. However, it is a good read and has a couple of surprises up its sleeve. Despite the beginning, where the reader sees simply our world without love in it, the novel deepens into something much more meaningful. It peels back the veneer to reveal a society that keeps all its inhabitants in place with an electric fence and mountains of lies.

Prepare to be hooked, teen fiction lovers.

I give this book an 8 out of 10.

11 August 2011

Matched - Ally Condie

Cassia lives in a world where everything is regulated for the good of the community. There are 100 songs, 100 poems, 100 paintings and everyone learns enough for what they need in their jobs. No-one writes or draws, and everyone carries 3 pills to help them along with their lives.

The society chooses their job, their partner, the day of their death, their clothes. They are fed meals that keep them healthy, and are given long lives because disease has been eradicated.

But there is a dark and sinister side to this society. They are only perfect because of the lengths some people are willing to go. And if you don't conform, they can do anything to you. They are always listening, monitoring your movements, conversations, even your dreams.

In this story, Cassia, is matched with the person she is meant to spend the rest of her life with... there's just one problem. He might not actually be the one.

This fast paced and clever story leaves you wanting more and you can hardly put it down. The characters have strong personalities that are difficult not to get attached to. The book is all about the growth and strength of the main character and eventually her realisation that her society is wrong. It is the perfect teenage story as it mixes breaking the rules and love to combine in one excellent and almost grown-up narrative.

This is perfect for those teens starting to read dystopian novels.

Unbelievably, for a teen read, this deserves a 10 out of 10.


9 August 2011

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

This is the story of Offred, a handmaid in a post-war dystopian society where men rule and women are categorised and dressed to show their rank. The population is so low that Handmaids have to be assigned to the Commanders and are expected to have their children. Three miscarriages or deformed babies, and they get carted to the colonies; a place for useless men and women. If you were lucky, you would be picking cotton or fruit, but if you weren't, you were sent to die by cleaning up toxic waste. Some only had months to live.

The story is in the form of a diary, we are not sure to whom it is written, or even if the main character lives or dies at the end. Her only importance is to be a vessel, a surrogate mother for the Commander's child. We are shown how her life is ruled by fear; she is ripped from her old life. Her job, her family, even her name is taken from her, to be replaced by the name of the Commander she serves.

This book looks at our society and rips it to pieces. it shows us how we live for pleasure by condemning the characters to a life without it, for which the punishment is most likely death for those who seek it. The protagonist mourns the loss of things we currently take for granted, like wearing what we like, free speech, friendship, love, even having a job. It makes the reader realise how truly lucky they are to have these simple luxuries.

This is a complex and enticing story about a woman trapped in such a society and wishing to get out. It is a social comment on how people treat each other, of morality and the way we take things for granted. It takes into account the ideas of right and wrong and allows the reader to decide if the society is indeed cruel or if it is necessary.

Margaret Atwood delivers a heartbreaking and sophisticated read, it deserves a 10 out of 10.


8 August 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Finally, there is an ending to the intriguing phenomenon that is the Harry Potter franchise, and may I say that it doesn't disappoint.

The effects are simply stunning, with extensive  CGI in the form of dragons, knights, giants, magic and one intricate castle. The fight scenes are well choreographed and give it that edge that they just didn't have back in The Philosopher's Stone, 10 years ago.

I'm sure most, if not all, of you have read the book and so I won't say too much about the plot. However, the film, as always, does miss out a few plot points that may have helped the viewers who have yet to read it. Despite this, they weren't so shambolic or intrinsic to the plot, and the action soon overtook anything that may not have made sense.

As can be expected, the film jumps almost straight into the action, and within a few minutes we are given our first slice of adventure; Gringotts, complete with a beautiful set and some more wonderful CGI treats. The journey on the cart under the bank was well done due to the detail in the surroundings.
Bonus acting points in this section have to go to Helena Bonham Carter for playing a believable 'Hermione as Bellatrix', the stances and facial expressions were spot on and rather comic.

The battle of Hogwarts takes up the majority of the film - and rightly so. There is so much happening in this space of time that it would only be right to give it as much attention as possible. And the effects, again, were bewildering. Just the magic shield protecting the castle was awe inspiring, and it all looked so real, considering the castle is entirely CGI in these parts.

One point to mention is that you don't see more minor deaths, like those of Tonks, Lupin and Fred. This was much less emotional than it could have been. You also don't get to see Professor Trelawney throwing crystal balls at invaders, much to my own displeasure, but there were some comic moments to make up for this.

We tend to follow Harry around the place, which may lead to viewers feeling like they are missing the main action of the battle to get on with finding and destroying the Horcruxes, not to mention having a few revelations.

The end scene was one that leaves you a little bit hollow. It is the end. The characters are grown up (admittedly, not looking too much older than they already do, despite being meant to be about 35), Voldemort is dead, and an era is ending. Still, it is a good film, and worth seeing if only for the finality of the plot and the wonderful effects.

Not quite a 10, but close enough; I give it a 9 out of 10.



21 July 2011

Before I Fall - Lauren Oliver

A lot of people don't like to think about the moment when they die, but this book deals with exactly that: the thing that we may be scared of the most. Death. It may be surprising for you, but this book can be funny and sweet and emotional, the end may well move you to tears of joy.

Sam is a popular teenage girl who dies in a car accident, whose last day keeps replaying. The book was very thought provoking, as it makes you realise how your decisions, however small, affect other people. Simple acts of kindness or angry words could make other peoples lives better or worse. Maybe not to the extent of the book, but you get the idea.

The idea that you should be true to yourself is also a running theme that really hits home for me. It is so important to me that everyone doesn't hide who they really are, as then people don't truly know you and make false assumptions. It is amazing how one small change can make you happier than any number of minutes being popular.

Unfortunately, since the day is replayed and the plot is based around the same (or similar) events, the book can be a bit too repetitive at times. It also takes a while to get into, as well as to get used to the style of writing that the author uses.

The style of writing shows that this book is clearly for teenage girls, as there is a lot of slang use. It is also directly relatable to them as they are experiencing all the things that happen; parties, school, bullying, sex, alcohol, drugs. OK, maybe not those last two, but it is a possibility.

What is a shame is that it may be difficult for many of the audience to properly relate to the main character, let alone like her, as she was quite difficult to get to know. Only a select number of people have been in the most popular groups at their schools, and therefore it may be difficult for the others to understand where the main character is coming from. I also found some of what was said by the characters to be quite immature and a little annoying, but that may be my age talking.

Needless to say, the book was a good enough read, but for me there was a definite lack of something special. Even though the message and the thoughts behind it were brilliant, I am afraid that the book is only a 4 out of 10.

Lets hope Lauren Oliver's next book, Delirium, is more gripping...

20 July 2011

The Prince of Mist - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Carlos Ruiz Zafon is a master storyteller whose other works (The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game) have enthralled me with their strange and surreal events.

The Prince of Mist is rather a lot smaller than it's predecessors, but it really packs a punch. It is perfect for those of you who want to read this author but haven't got the heart to try to read the somewhat more hefty books. It is a ghostly tale told around a peaceful looking village on the coast and its disturbing past.

This book isn't one for the faint hearted either. While it isn't your utterly terrifying Stephen King novel, it is quite an eerie and suspenseful read. I love the way that all the components of the story come together in a brilliant ending.

The book certainly knew how to wow me, and although it was shorter than my usual read, I felt it was equally as good. Given that this was a book for young adults, I think it did it's job well, without giving me nightmares about clowns and sunken ships. The feel of suspense as well as the haunting character of the Prince of Mist is genius.

The characters were good, and given that there was not too many pages, I feel that their fears and feelings were very well written. They each had very separate personalities, which I think is very important in any book.

I really commend Zafon's other works, and this is no exception to the rule. If you love ghost stories, or just an exciting read in a small package, then this is the book for you. This deserves a 9.5 out of 10. The only criticism I give it is that I wish it had been longer.

The Ambassador's Mission - Trudi Canavan

The first book in Trudi Canavan's Traitor Spy Trilogy was full of new and exciting possibilities. Not only do we start a full 20 years after the original Black Magician Trilogy, but we also have knowledge of past events such as the beginning of the Apprentices as well as the Sachakan war to guide us through and keep us interested, as many of these things are referenced in the book.

One possible failing for this book is that you have to read the previous series and the prequel before it to be able to comprehend what is going on and who the characters are. There are plenty of references to previous events as well as dead characters and other things that will not be understood without the other books, such as the idea of a magicians guild.

However, if you have done this, the book makes for some excellent and rather interesting reading that has a completely separate plot from the other series and the prequel. I find that most sequels tend to hang off the back of the first series like a wet fish, and therefore was quite happy to find that this one did not.
Trudi Canavan truly knows her world and the characters inside it. She always manages to paint it with such acute detail. Concepts such as her idea of how magic works are easy to understand, and in this book, she goes so far as to deal with drug addiction as well as her original ideas of slavery.

I particularly like the way that the author comments on our lives in her books. One of the plot lines in this book is about the underground dealings of an addictive substance called 'rot'. One point is that the addiction cannot be healed away by magic, leaving the magicians vulnerable. This is an obvious take on addictive substances like cigarettes, weed and other drugs and it is clear to see where the author stands. It is interesting to see how the subject is written about as well as seeing the links to reality - this world doesn't seem to be so different from our own.

As always Trudi's characters are well thought through and multifaceted. You don't often get bored as there are plenty of things to find out about the new ones, and the original ones still have a few surprises in store for us.

I thought I might have a problem with the book, as it includes Sonea (the main character from the Black Magician series) in 20 years, and she has a child. However, since the child was grown up, this wasn't so much of a problem for me. In fact, I rather enjoyed getting to know Lorkin and following him on his adventure.

Overall, this book is an 8/10. I'm afraid it just doesn't live up to her other series (The Age of the Five), which I found truly breathtaking and so well thought out.

27 June 2011

Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero - Rick Riordan

Having read all the previous Percy Jackson series, as well as having seen the film Percy Jackson and The Lighting Thief, I decided to go on to what seems to be the next series in the world of Percy Jackson. This time we follow an amnesiac called Jason on an adventure that takes him to California, Chicago and even to Canada on a giant fire breathing hunk of metal. But enough of that, or there could be spoilers.

As a... fan, of Greek mythology, I very much enjoyed the portrayal of it in in 21st century from the original Percy Jackson series. This book goes one better and plays around with its previous ideas to create something even more memorable. I rather like the way that Jason can't remember who he is, as it means that we only know things about him when he learns them.

The back stories to the characters are clever and interwoven with the main plot very well, and yet it took me a while to see what was coming. The book is told by the three main characters, from their viewpoint, meaning that as a reader you get to see into all their minds and learn to understand them as separate people and also be continually wondering what secrets they all seem to be hiding.

I also like the way that the plot is almost carried on from the end of the first set of books, meaning that the reader can easily pick it up without wondering too much about what has happened since, as only a few things have and they are explained to you fairly early.

There are a couple of twists in the plot, however, I could see some of them coming and guessed two major plot points extremely early. Of course, it helps that I have a rather good knowledge of Greek myth (and other myth too), but I think others with not so good a knowledge would have figured it out long before the characters did. However, since this book is for teens rather than 20 year olds, I think that's OK.

Overall I give this book a 9 out of 10.

24 June 2011

Raising Demons - Rachel Hawkins

I do believe Rachel Hawkins has done it again. She writes in such a way that I really couldn't put this book down. Yes, it took me a little longer than 4 hours this time, and then only because I had important things to do.

Again this book is hilarious, and even though the main character is a teenager, I could relate. The plot this time is a lot more 'twisty' and I really didn't want it to end. One bad thing though, I don't have the next one, so how on earth am I going to finish the story?

I am hooked, not only because the storytelling is good, but because it is no longer in the school, people we thought were good are actually bad and there are still those beautiful popular culture references without any hugely overbearing similarities to other books.

All in all, another good read, despite this very short review. I think it deserves a 9/10, simply because it ended in the worst place I could have hoped for, and with so much unanswered!

(Also called Demonglass)

22 June 2011

Holy Fools - Joanne Harris

My favourite author has yet again done a beautiful job of bringing to life something of both normality and pure emotion as well as something a little darker.

This time, the story is set around the flame haired nun, Juliette, and the Abbey she resides in. But there is so much more to this story than meets the eye.

Joanne Harris artfully involves a colourful background of theatre, circus and performance to the plot, rendering the Abbey only a stage for an old and beguiling friend, if you could call him that.

Culminating in a tense and powerful ending, and featuring scared nuns who talk of demons, ghosts and the involvement of the devil, the book grabs hold of you and dares you not to let go.

I could find few flaws in this book, and yet somehow I found it was quite easy for me to put down. I think this is due to a lack of empathy with the main character, as I am not a mother, and a large amount of time was given to the motherly emotions of the main character as her daughter is stolen from her.

However, as always, I implore you to read Joanne Harris. This may not be for the average reader, as it can be slightly difficult to get into this particular style of hers, but it is definitely worth a read. I give it an 8 out of 10.

21 June 2011

Up

Disney Pixar have been around for a good while now, and they have thrown out such favourites as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars and WALL-E. But, just sliding past the very clever robot love story, my favourite has to be Up.

It is a story about an old widower who sets out on an amazing journey... in a floating house held up by balloons. The concept is pure genius. After all, most of us have a dream of going travelling, and why not bring all your belongings too?

The film is full of laughs as well as a few sad parts that make these animations so special. Dogs can speak; giving way to lines such as 'I can smell you', which probably only makes sense in context.

There is a bit of gender confusion for a female bird called Kevin and an old man fight, which is hilarious given that they use their false teeth and their walking sticks to fight and are continually having to put their backs in place.

The film has some wisdom in it though: Firstly to respect your elders, and secondly that everyone has something more to give in life, even if it is crossing a giant rock to get to a waterfall, dragging a house along with you.

I think for whoever sees this, it will keep with you for a very long time. It has something about it that makes it a favourite, as it has very different characters to normal animations and an old fashioned style (and music) that anyone would love. I really can't fault this film, so it has to be a 10/10.

Hex Hall - Rachel Hawkins

This book is by far my fastest read. I literally read it in a four hour stint because I could not put it down. Usually, this book is not what I would go for. My sister recommended it to me and I took it, feeling apprehensive about the whole thing. One point to be made is that it is teenage fiction, and therefore revolves around things like school, boys and angst. However, the book is not just about a normal person, it is about a witch who goes to a reform school for magical beings.

I know, this all sounds very Harry Potter. And in fact, you can tell that the idea did come from there. The writer doesn't try to hide that from us at all, which I like. There is even a little joke at her own expense here. You can see rather a lot of parallels with Harry Potter and Hex Hall; A ball, a school, witches, wizards (or warlocks), vampires, werewolves, a forbidden wood, resident ghosts, some sort of magical enforcement and a journey of self discovery.

Thank God then, that the writer added a first person style and a sense of humour to the book, or else your mind would scream Harry Potter at you throughout the whole read. I really like the main character, who is female by the way. She is so sarcastic and witty that I can relate to her entirely, even though I am very aware of her rather clumsy powers.

I don't want to give too much away about the plot, but believe me when I say that the school and the inhabitants are where the similarities end. The book is definitely for the teenage generation, but I have to say that I did have a good laugh at all the jokes that were included. Rachel Hawkins really knows how to bring characters to life and did a good job of showing the emotional turmoil of a teen.

Had the book not reminded me so much of another magical series, I would have given this a higher score. However, the backchat and general feel of the book redeemed this. I give it a 6 out of 10.

19 June 2011

The Lord of The Rings - J.R.R Tolkien

As some of you may have noticed, there has been rather a big lack of book reviewing going on recently on this blog. Why? Because I have been undertaking the momentous task of finally reading The Lord of The Rings.

I would like to say first off that many people find this book difficult to read, and I agree, it is rather like wading through a thick and rather sticky marsh in places. It was written way back in a time when authors had such a fixed idea about who there characters are and what their world is like that every minute detail of the landscape and the thoughts of the characters are meticulously written down. So, for those of you who think they can't handle that type of writing, I would ask you  to leave this one to the book worms and the hardcore fantasy fanatics.

I am one such fanatic though. And so I have to say that even though it took me 3 months to complete my reading of this book, it was time well spent. The movie, which the book MUST be compared to at some point, does extremely well at showing the reader the main story, and making it as compelling and exciting as they possibly can.

But they miss so much. The absolute terror that the Black Riders induce in people is never really shown, and many characters and scenes are missed out whilst others are put in. For example, Frodo never sends Sam away at any point, and there is a large section in the first book, concerning Forests and a strange, ancient being by the name of Tom Bombadil, that is missing entirely from the story. However, I think that had this part been in the film, it would have almost stopped it dead, so it may be for the best.

Back to the book, my favourite character by far was Sam Gamgee. Probably because we get to know him much more than any other character in the entire book. The books are written from the viewpoints of the hobbits, rather than from the men, which proves very interesting.

When we are following Frodo into Mordor, Sam's point of view is the one that we have, and we learn that he is a loyal and caring companion who only wishes to help. Not only that, but he is in fact quite brave and clever, despite not looking that way. He is really the only character that has been opened up to us in his entirety, with even Merry and Pippin's thoughts not showing quite as much depth.

The book is extremely well written, with a superb plot that is well thought through. We follow a great journey in a land that is so unlike our own, sometimes it is easy to become lost in it. The beginning can take a while to get into, as a great deal of the book is actually still in the Shire.

The end can also be a little long winded, but hold on, because there is a very interesting part that was never put in to the films. As I said, it can be a difficult read at times, but I implore anyone to give it a go at least once, if only to say that they have read one of the greats.

As for me, I give it a 9/10.

14 June 2011

Brokeback Mountain

There are a lot of westerns out there, and they all have one thing in common; manly, gruff talking men in Stetsons shooting Indians and each other. Sometimes there's a pretty woman involved too. Then this film came along and revolutionised the idea of these manly, gun slinging men and made them more real. OK, so it's not really a Western so much, it's more of a film with cowboys in, but you get the jist.

For those of you who have never seen or heard of Brokeback Mountain, it follows the lives of two men who look after sheep one summer on Brokeback Mountain. During that time, they form a tenuous relationship and become lovers. The mountain becomes a safe haven for them both throughout their lives, as they live in continual fear of being found out.

The film won 3 Oscars, 3 Baftas and 4 Golden Globes as well as various other awards. I can see why. Not only does it have a superb cast (with the likes of Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway in the foremost roles) but it also is a beautiful and tragic story of a love that is never fulfilled. It gives us an insight into the lives of gay men in that time.

I was touched by the raw emotion coming out of every character, particularly in the performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal, but also in that of Michelle Williams. I think she did a brilliant job of displaying the character and her mixed feelings to the point where, although these things have never happened to me, I could completely understand and empathise with her.

There were, however, a few things that ruined this film for me. Firstly, Heath Ledger sometimes mumbled his lines to the point where I could hardly tell what he was saying. Considering he has the last line of the film, and I don't know what he says, I think this is quite a big problem.

The plot is also a little mixed, so sometimes I couldn't quite tell what was happening or to who. This is good for scenes like in the tent, where the gay action is kept hidden from the viewer on purpose, but it can sometimes be confusing in other scenes.

The film may not be watchable for people who consider being gay to be a crime against nature, but apart from this it tells a beautiful story about forbidden love with some extremely beautiful settings. I think this deserves a 9/10.

9 June 2011

X-Men First Class

As you must all know by now, I rather like my superhero films. They tend to push boundaries in several ways: Special effects, concepts ranging from alien powers to radioactive spiders to genetic mutation, hot men in spandex.. Anyway, I find these films to be better than most because we find ourselves in an utterly different situation. This is no longer everyday life, it is what you make of it, and who is to say what is wrong and what is right?

The most recent X-Men film illustrates that last question perfectly. The film enables us to see everyones point of view; The normal human being, who is intimidated by the next stage of evolution and fears its own extinction. Charles Xavier, who empathises with all parties despite being a mutant and Erik Lehnsherr, believing there is a war coming and wishing revenge. As viewers, we can see the reasons for each character's actions. To them, what they think is right, and this quality in the film is something that I think everyone should appreciate.

This particular film is a prequel to the previous 3 movies, but not Wolverine, whose story, incidentally, is before and during this one, as we see by the fleeting cameo in which he tells Charles and Erik to 'fuck off' as they try to recruit him. I did take quite a lot of satisfaction from this as I do rather love Hugh Jackman and his antihero character.

There were, unfortunately, a lot of slip ups in this film. And I am fairly sure that quite a bit of it was true to the comics, but not so true to their other movies. Here are just a couple of them:

In X-Men: The Last Stand, when Xavier and Magneto visit Jean Grey as a child, Xavier can still walk. Xavier gets paralysed in First Class at a very young age, much before they go to see her. Magneto is meant to be in the Brotherhood at this point, and so may not have even accompanied Xavier to Jean Grey's childhood home.

In the first X-Men movie, Xavier says that Magneto helped him build Cerebro, however, in this film, Beast is the one to build it, and it is destroyed and not put back together before Magneto leaves to build his Brotherhood.

However, they do clear up quite a lot of questions that I had. Probably the biggest was how Xavier got paralysed in the first place. As I have not read the comics, I find the film very good in giving this kind of information, as well as Including characters that I know from the X-Men cartoon series.

The film stars all new actors in order to appeal to the younger audience, and in this respect they did a good job. I do think that they could have given a bit more to all the people who have seen the other films, though. Since the cast was entirely new and quite young, there was no way of recapturing the older generation and the lovers of the original films.

My favourite actor was probably Michael Fassbender in his performance of Erik/ Magneto due to his talent at getting across the mixed emotions that he feels with his facial expressions and body language. I think he did a good job of allowing the audience to get to know the character without hating him, quite like the way that Ian McKellen did in the original 3 movies. You can definitely see that he has studied the actor and taken character traits from him, only put them into a younger and therefore more volatile form.

Just to give a mention to another actor who I hold in quite high esteem, I think Nicholas Hoult did a brilliant job at being a geeky and rather sweet young version of Beast. I liked the way that the emotions of the young people were displayed, and the film did play a lot on attraction and self esteem. This, I felt, was a little too teenage even for me, so maybe the market could have been widened a little.

Overall I think this film is an 8 out of 10 as I very much enjoyed it and it had superb special effects. But it certainly isn't one for the huge fans or the originals, or for the comic book fans for that matter.

For me, I still think that X-Men Origins: Wolverine had it all.

20 May 2011

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet gives a twist to that age old idea of Vigilateism. There are so many superhero movies out there.. Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, Daredevil, you name it. And we are always fed the idea that to be a hero you need lots of money or special powers. The same can be said here, as the main character does have a lot of money, but we don't actually see him using it.

This film reminds me so much of the recent hit movie Kickass, because the main characters just want to help the world however they can, with or without super powers. It also reminds me of Watchmen due to the serious antihero ideas that have been thrown in. The way that the Green Hornet tries to help people is through pretending to be a bad guy.

This film is not just about heroes though. The Green Hornet is more of a comedy than a hero movie. Yes, it has action, but it also has Seth Rogen, Cameron Diaz and Jay Chou (a virtually unknown actor who really surprised me by being hilarious and cool at the same time). In all, this is actually a ridicule of other superhero films that take themselves too seriously.

The weapons and effects in this film are exactly the type of thing you would come to expect from modern day. There are many explosions, car races, guns, and even some Grease style wheel spikes.

A downfall of the movie was that you never truly get into it. I felt that something big was always about to happen, but really the biggest part happened at the end. This confused me a bit, and although I was never bored, I found the end to not be so much of a climax because of it.

I give this film a 7/10 for effort and the ability to amuse, even if some of the plot was not always so good.

17 May 2011

Born This Way

How much can you say about a song?

Well, the truth is, not that much. You can say that the tempo is strong, that it has a good beat, that the harmony is nice. You can say that it would be good to dance to in a club, that it should be loved by everyone because it's so catchy.

Really though, it's the words that people listen to. The words an the way it is sung draw emotion from the listener like none of the music can. Yes, there may be a simply beautiful piece of music, but when you put words to it, it suddenly has a beautiful meaning too.

Some songs get stuck in your head for hours, days even. My song today has been 'Born This Way' by Lady Gaga. It's been stuck on repeat ever since I go up, but I'm not bored of it.

Why?

It's the words.

They are inspirational, just like the woman herself. She is telling us to be ourselves, that all of us are beautiful in our own way, and I really admire that message that she is giving to the millions that will hear it around the world.

I salute you Gaga

15 May 2011

More To Come...

Recently I've been very busy with deadlines looming dangerously close. On Wednesday, I officially finish for the year, so I shall be back then with some rather wonderful blogs.

Coming Soon:
The Green Hornet
Scott Pilgrim Vs The World
Lord of the Rings
Fast and Furious 5
Up

I hope you'll forgive me for my busy-ness by reading those beauties.

10 May 2011

The Phantom of the Opera

The story of the Phantom has been with us for a century, and yet really, none of us would know it but for the inspired tune from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical. It is the story of a genius and a murderer, of love and hate, of an Opera house and the people within. This is truly a brilliant story, and I feel that the music is astounding and beautiful, much like the story itself.

The story is very slightly different to the stage version, but it still manages to capture the essence of it. This is probably because Andrew Lloyd Webber produces the film.  Christine Daae is only a chorus-girl when she is asked to sing in the place of La Carlotta, the Opera's primadonna. But she has a secret; ever since she came to live at the Opera, a strange angel of music has been teaching her to sing. Little does she know that her angel is really the terrifying Opera Ghost, who is best known for causing accidents with his magical lassoo. The Opera has just changed hands, and the new patron, Raoul de Chagny, could not be more thrilled when he sees Christine singing - they had been childhood sweethearts. Later Raoul goes to Christine, but she is spirited away by the Phantom. Although this seems to be a love story of sorts, beware, the Phantom isn't a lovesick puppy.

This 2004 film version stars the likes of Gerard Butler, Miranda Richardson and Minnie Driver. But it is the beautiful and enchantingly naive performance of the virtually unknown Emmy Rossum (who you may also have seen in The Day After Tomorrow and Poseidon) that makes this film something wonderful. All the actors sing the parts in this film, and Emmy is exceptional, having been singing and acting from an early age. Her voice is fantastic, and the acting is exactly what you would expect of a leading lady and she was only 16 at the time. However, the actor who really brings the Phantom to life is of course Gerard Butler, whose portrayal of emotion - from anger to utter heartbreak - leaves your emotions as contorted as the Phantom's face.

What I really like about this movie is the plot. It doesn't twist, and it doesn't have to. It is obvious and yet the emotion of the story and the truth behind what is happening to the characters is what drives you to keep watching. All the viewer really wants is an answer to their questions. You even start to care for this shady Phantom, even after you know he has killed people. I shed a tear at the thought of his heart breaking, I was so involved. And Gerard Butler does play it with some poise and a lot of emotion. Enough to make me tear up a second time at the thought of his possible demise, I have to admit.

The scenery is spectacular. At the beginning, when the black and white film turns to the past and you see the pure opulence of the theatre, it is really something to behold. The golden statues, the stairs to stage area; the grandeur of the place is wonderful. The other scenes of the dressing rooms and the secret passageways are equally as amazing. I especially liked the Phantom's lair, with it's luxurious flowers and furniture, as well as the snowy scenes in the graveyard and the rooftop, where the main character was cleverly wearing red as a dramatic contrast as well as a symbolic reference to danger and love.

One drawback to the film is a technical one; an error for the people editing the film, rather than the actors or the costume designers (nice work, by the way, the costumes were amazing too). It went from almost unheard whispers to beltingly loud music quite suddenly, which meant that I had to keep turning it up and down in turn to keep from having my eardrums blasted by that ominous organ.

All in all I would like to give this film a 9.5 out of 10, because even when I couldn't hear the words, I knew the story. This is a romance enthusiasts dream, right from beginning to end.

Thor

My knowledge of the Norse Gods is quite small compared to any other type of mythology. All I know is that Odin is the King of the Gods, Thor is the God of Thunder (and he has a mighty big hammer), Loki is the God of Mischief and that they all live in Asgard. And, thankfully, that is all I really needed to know for this film.

Marvel are famous for, well, comic books and films made out of their comics. Other previous films include The Green Lantern, Iron Man, X-Men and Spiderman. All of these films have actually been pretty successful, and I have to say, I really can't wait for my beloved X-Men prequel (X-Men: First Class) to come out in cinemas. Thor dangles precariously on the line between comic books and legend. He is in there with the likes of Beowulf, Robin Hood and Hercules and yet Marvel have made him a Superhero of sorts. Personally, I think that the film may be better than other comic book films because of this. It is no longer an everyday person who has powers, it is a God.

And boy does he act like one. Chris Hemsworth (who you may have seen at the very beginning of Star Trek, playing Captain Kirk's dad, as well as in the TV series, Home and Away) is absolutely brilliant, not to mention good looking with rather nice muscles. He not only managed to get me to dislike Thor at the beginning with his utter arrogance and pride, but he got me to really like him at the end. He was funny, with lines such as 'How dare you threaten the son of Odin with such a puny weapon' perfectly executed. I have to say, that one made me giggle, especially when he got tasered afterwards.

The rest of the cast were good, with notable appearances from the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and Stellan Starsgard (known for his performances as Bootstrap Bill in Pirates of the Caribbean and Good Will Hunting). But who really wowed me was Tom Hiddleston, playing Loki. His character was complex and endearing. We like him and understand his actions, even though we know he is mischievous and underhand. Loki is often the 'bad' Norse God, and yet in this film we can see how he can be both good and bad.

Another thing that impressed me was the beautiful scenery of the other worlds. Asgard completely blew me away with its elegance and magical atmosphere, whilst the world of the Frost Giants was phenomenal in its icy glory, despite it almost falling apart. The characters themselves. especially in the magical realms, were well thought out. The Frost Giants looked ominous and frightening whilst the Gods of Asgard were clad in well designed costumes that were Viking-like and yet God-like at the same time.

I really enjoyed this film, and I thought the plot was well thought out, with the characters being multi-faceted and interesting. The scenes were well executed by a cast of good actors. One of the few downfalls was that this film has only came out in cinema in 3D. Being an avid film fan, I much prefer to watch the film than to be amazed at the 3Dness of it. In some action scenes, I missed parts because it made my eyes hurt to watch it. I do not like 3D at the best of times because I am a fairly jumpy viewer, but I saw no point in the film being 3D anyway.

To end, I give this film an 8 out of 10. Film Industry, your 3D has failed you this time. But apart from that glitch, Marvel has done a great job of making this comic a watchable film that fits into both the comic category and the mythology category, making it a film for fans of both.

23 April 2011

Red Riding Hood

This particular film has had a lot of bad reviews from what I've been reading and hearing, but really this it has been bigged up by the film industry a little too much. after all, this is a film based on a children's fairy story, so it will never be absolutely superb, unlike a film directly from a creative mind, rather than something pre-existing. It is also directed by the same woman who directed Twilight, but thankfully she had gotten rather a lot better actors in this movie.

This is the story of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), from a village bang in the middle of a huge forest that is plagued by a werewolf. She is just planning to run away with the man (a woodcutter, and a hot one at that) that she loves when her sister is killed by it.To make matters worse, her parents have arranged her to marry the very rich blacksmith (played by Jeremy Iron's son Max, who is also nice to look at). As a result of the death, the men go out to to hunt for the beast, only for a man to be killed and the village to be attacked. Then along comes Father Solomon, a pious and cruel man who wants to rid the world of werewolves, and the havoc begins.

I find what they did with the story quite refreshing and yet not altogether new. They changed the original story so much, but kept all the best bits; the red riding hood, the wolf, the forest, the grandmother in the woods and of course those famous lines - 'What big teeth you have... all the better to eat you with.' The entire story is geared so much for that same audience that loved the twilight films though. That was it's only downfall. The ending, although kind of sad, was rather too happy in my opinion. You had the werewolf, the hot young men and the inevitable love triangle predicament. It was all a little obvious, to say the least.

With performances from Julie Christie and Gary Oldman, this film made my day despite it's obviousness. The plot kept you guessing who the werewolf was right until it was revealed. And no, it wasn't who I thought it was, and usually I'm right. I thought the film overall was quite clever; it was made entirely for the teen girl audience, and yet had enough storyline to hold an audience fairly captive. Yes, I could have missed some and still got the point, as some of the scenes were a little long winded, but I also could have missed a clue as to the wolf's identity.

I liked the way that the story was a little more fantasy based, and had a very old fashioned feel to the village. The idea of witches, werewolves and religion was inspired, I thought, as it gave a twist to what could have been quite a boring film, had they not adapted the story.

The setting and scenery were stunning, particularly at the beginning where there was a pan over the landscape. I also thought the wolf was good, as it was scary, but not. You knew what it was capable of and yet there was a humanness that made you think of it. And the story makes sense, which some of these films rarely do, especially when there is a mystery concerned.

Overall, I was quite impressed. However, I will give this film a 7/10, as I feel it lacked the dynamism and acting that would have made it a better film, which would have been more suitable for a wider audience.

15 April 2011

Suckerpunch

Suckerpunch is a dark and surreal story about a mental patient and her escape from a sordid institution. The scenes are confused and the mental institute turns into a sort of sex trafficking scheme, without being this explicit. Since it is from the point of view of the girl, the viewer assumes that she really must be crazy. She dreams up her own world inside a world, where she and her friends battle with enemies to find certain artifacts to escape.

The film is odd as it combines sexuality with brutality. As in every man's dream, the girls are scantily clad in leather and school girl-like clothes for the fight scenes. They shoot guns and kill monsters, Nazis, Samurai's, you name it. They scenes were reminiscent of the matrix and 300 in the way that the fight scenes were slowed down to show clearly each punch or clever move. The girls could take hits almost super humanly, and they had skills they could never dream of doing in reality.

As I said before, this film is dark. There is a clear threat to the girls by men, which also implies that this is a film about much more than an accidental murderer. At the beginning, it seems that her step-father is in some way hurtful towards both of the sisters; he locks Babydoll (the main character, whose real name we do not know) in her room and advances towards her little sister in a menacing manner, prompting her to try to shoot him. The man in charge of the institution seems to enjoy making the girls do his bidding. He is cruel, and arranges a deal with Babydoll's stepfather to give her a lobotomy, something that will subdue her entirely. Every enemy that the girls face is either a creature or male.

Some of the scenes, though only suggestive in some places, are very shocking. It has sexual references, knifes, arson, death, destruction and fighting. You may find that this isn't at all your type of thing, and yet this film makes the divide between reality and fantasy so blurred that you are never sure whether these things happen or not. I would like to believe that they didn't, and yet the end of the film suggests otherwise.

The acting in the movie was good. There was a great deal of emotion in everything that happened, leading me to very nearly tear up. Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) and Jamie Chung (Grown Ups) could have done more with their roles, but it was a toss up between Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, as Prince John) and the doll-like Emily Browning (A Series of Unfortunate Events) as to who won the prize for best acting. I dare say it actually goes to Oscar Isaac, who was totally convincing as the terrifying owner of the institute.

Quite strangely, the film delves into many different genres; fantasy, with dragons and orc-like creatures, war, action, you name it. But the real drama is by far the ones that most stick in your mind. The treatment of these girls clings to you long after you see it. I came out of the cinema with a feeling of defiance, and a message; 'you have all the weapons you need. Now fight.'

This film is probably everything a man could ever want, and yet it cleverly conceals a very female friendly message. It tells women that they have all the weapons they need to get out of situations they don't want to be in. It gives those who are being hurt and are afraid hope and determination. And yet it doesn't fully agree to this. The end is mixed. It ends on a happy note, and yet it doesn't, but you'll have to watch it to know what I mean.

All in all, I would like to point out that this is a very good film. It certainly gave me a lot to think about and to talk about to you all. Based on this and the other points I have made, this film deserves an 8 out of 10, the 2 marks only being taken off of it because of its confused nature.

12 April 2011

The Eagle

This film is about a young Roman (Channing Tatum) who is stationed in Britain to look after a small settlement. After battling with the native tribe, he is injured and honourably discharged from the army as a result, since he will never fully recover. While Marcus (the Roman) recovers, he sees a fight to the death between a British slave (Jamie Bell) and a gladiator. The slave, Esca, is saved by him after being defeated when he makes the crowd shout for him to live. The slave then serves him out of debt and together they embark on a quest to find the Eagle: a golden statue held by a legion that was lost in the north.

This film made me very thoughtful. As a British inhabitant myself, it made me both proud and disgusted at my heritage. They valour and bravery of both the main characters was something that I appreciated, as well as the attention to detail. The British tribes, for example, had their own language that was separate from the roman language (this was English for the film). The costumes were also paid attention to, which made it much more realistic. It was interesting to see the original British tribes and how they contrasted with the regimented life of the Romans.

The tenuous friendship between the two characters is also something that really got to me. When travelling into Scotland through Hadrian's wall (which, by the way, was huge compared to how it really was/is) the relationship between them becomes confused. They are no longer a master and a slave, they are equal, sometimes tipping this balance completely the opposite way. Sometimes you wonder if they will betray each other in some way, and this adds some suspense to the film.

The actor who particularly stood out for me is Jamie Bell. He has come a rather long way from his all dancing role as Billy Elliott, and although he did appear in King Kong as the rather creepy cabin boy on the ship, his role in this film was so much more impressive. He gave the character many more dimensions than you would first think, and he has a mysteriousness that makes you question your perceptions of him. I really love this actor.

Channing Tatum was pretty good, but didn't give too much away about his stoic and quite aloof character. It was a little bit disappointing actually, though Jamie Bell more than made up for this. I would, however, like to mention an appearance from the ever more popular Mark Strong, known more for his role in the recent Sherlock Holmes film as Blackwood. He is a terrific actor, and I can't wait to see him in other films soon.

Like all other Roman or Greek films, there will always be one that it will be compared to, and that's Gladiator. But I think I'd like to be different and compare it more to other films in the action genre. As it goes as an action film, it is pretty good. The fight scenes are good and keep your interest, it has flashback and dreamlike sequences that make for a little bit of intrigue, and it has subplots that are easy to follow, as well as the main plot of finding the eagle.

All in all, I think this film deserves 7/10 stars.

30 March 2011

Co-op's Prawn Layered Salad

When I first thought I would start a reviewing blog, I always assumed it would be for games, movies, books.. the media. Food is food, end of. And yes, some of it is amazing, but it is always amazing.

Food isn't really my forte, but this salad needs telling to the world. Normally salads are dry, tasteless and dull. The whole lot is boring and bland. I normally eat salads and leave half due to utter boredom, but not this time.
Co-op's Prawn Layered salad surprised me because, first and foremost, it had flavour.

I think it is the sauce that did it, mixed into everything so it has a fishy tinge that doesn't overwhelm. The lettuce was fresh and watery, the cucumber was, well, cucumber, the prawns were tasty as always and the pasta shells were a nice touch to break up the meat and vegetables.

All in all, a 9 out of 10. A salad you can actually enjoy, and it's healthy too.

29 March 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

Going into this film, I thought that it would be yet another take on the almost exhausted genre that is an alien invasion on the human race. I wasn't wrong, and yet I wasn't right either.

Although it is the classic invasion story, there is so much more to it than that. We go into to the story from a viewpoint that I had yet to experience; a military one. Usually, I don't think much of war films, so I normally don't watch  them. The furthest into that genre I have ever been is Atonement, Brideshead Revisited and Pearl Harbour. So when my boyfriend likened this film to Black Hawk Down, I had no idea what he was talking about. What I do know, though, is that this is an intriguing film about the human race and their determination in the face of adversity as well as their fierce bonds of brother and sisterhood.

I personally enjoyed the film, even though it did have the same themes as many other alien films, including Independence Day and the ever enjoyable Evolution. Strangely, I want to liken it to films like 2012, as they both paint a picture of humans as caring beings who tend to help each other and band together in a crisis. The military viewpoint was a good decision for me, as it pushed the viewer right into the fray after some real heroes. I have to say, I think of military men and women with so much more respect after viewing this film. The amount of pure bravery in the face of certain death astounded me, and I reminded myself that people do this every day.

Although the characters were clearly military, the film showed hidden depths to them, as well as showing the harsh realities of war. The main character in particular was rather a lot more multi faceted than I had thought the film would show him to be. Played by Aaron Eckhart, the main character, Sgt Michael Nantz, is about to retire when he is forced into one last assignment that lands him straight in the middle of an alien invasion. Eckhart, who is most likely to be remembered from his performance in The Dark Knight, does a good job of playing the aloof retiree who is alleged to have abandoned his last team.

With an appearance from Michelle Rodriguez (Lost, Avatar) playing her usual bad-ass role and many virtual unknowns, this is not a star-studded cast, but I found that it didn't have to be as the performances were realistic and well done.

The film was a little slow at the start, but gradually moved up in pace. It did feel like it stopped and started at some points, where the film could have easily finished. However, I think that it finished at the right place. If it had finished any earlier, I would have left the cinema feeling like it had answered nothing. I wanted to know whether the humans won or not, and the end was just enough to conclude that they would. Of course, they left it hanging on a good end note, without giving away the rest of the world's situation.

The special effects were very good, and I was glad that it wasn't in 3D as I wouldn't have been able to watch it, being the flinching viewer that I am. The one thing I am truly disappointed in is that we never really got to have a good look at the aliens that were invading. I always want to see how the artists envisage an alien to look like, whether they are hairy or slimy, tall or tiny. Yet here I never truly got to see a whole alien. I suppose this is because the soldiers didn't really see a whole alien, but I really would have wanted to.

The aliens themselves were very interesting. They looked pretty slimy and you got a good look at their insides, which seem to be very watery. The reason for the invasion was also stated, which I find doesn't often happen in other alien invasion films. They give vague ideas of colonisation without implying what exactly they want. Here, they want water to fuel their ships and their bodies, which beckons the question; How did they get water to live in the first place? This is never answered unfortunately.

The aliens behave in a surprisingly human way. They attack the earth in the same way that we might attack another country; with precision, and a plan. They move their injured comrades out of firing range, just as the humans do, and they dart about trying not to get shot, much like humans do. The aliens are not so much apart from us in this particular film. These are military beings who mirror their human counterparts. It makes me think about our world too; we would kill an alien without a moments hesitation if they were invading us, and yet we do this to each other too.

I have to conclude that this film has really taught me a lot about respect and the nature of humans. Although the theme and the genre has been hugely overdone and some of the characters were not identifiable with the average viewer, I give this an 8 out of 10.

The Internet Movie Database Page for this movie can be found here.

15 March 2011

Fire - Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore's second stunning novel is positively one of the best books I have read. Far surpassing her previous book, Graceling, in storytelling and sophistication, Fire is an emotional roller coaster as well as a brilliant read.

Set in a world where monsters are enticingly beautiful creatures with mind controlling powers, the story follows the monster woman, Fire, through her astounding journey to help the king of the Dells, as well as her own. It is a truly fascinating story that entwines beautifully with Cashore's previous novel, but does not need to be read after it.

The characters in this book are extremely well written. Never have I read about characters that are more realistic or less one dimensional. The themes in this story are everything you would expect from a truly gifted fantasy novelist; war, death, betrayal, love, hate, happiness.. even a bit of politics.

The protagonist gives the entire book a well of emotion that threatens to bring the reader to tears. Her fear, anger, happiness and love make us relate to her. Even though she is an intriguingly beautiful woman with flaming red hair, we see her humanity although she is called a monster.

Cashore is a talented writer. Her plot is easy to follow but it has to many surprises and twists that you can't stop reading. This book hardly left my hands when I had a spare second or two. Her descriptions enable a clear image to fill your mind and the conversations are written in such a way that I found them quite enjoyable to follow.

This is definitely a book for those hardcore fantasy fans who want a good read.I never thought anyone could put so much into such a small book.

An amazing 10 out of 10 for this gem of a book.

13 March 2011

Paul

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are back together again for yet another highly amusing take on a classic. 'Paul' is funnier even than its predecessors 'Hot Fuzz' and 'Shaun of the Dead'. With Seth Rogen as the voice behind the little green man, they couldn't go wrong. After all, what's funnier than hearing offhanded swearing coming from a surprisingly life-like alien?

This time the famous duo star as two English 'nerds' who are on a sci-fi road trip, first to the comic-con (that's comic convention to all you non-nerds) and then on to famous sites like Area 51. What they didn't expect on their trip was to actually see an Alien, let alone one that is on the run from the FBI after years of imprisonment.

The plot is pretty obvious after that, but what makes it interesting are the quips, jokes and bad manners that come along during the inevitable chase that ensues. The alien, Paul, is an amusing and likeable character that anyone would want to befriend and the lines that comes out of him are brilliant. He is openly crude and seems to be running around naked half the time.

With appearances from the likes of Sigourney Weaver, Jane Lynch and Jason Bateman, this film has it all. And the swearing didn't even get to me as it so often does with badly made comedies. The duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are always a success, but this was by far the best for me.

This film is an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud comedy about an average alien. Paul is one of the best comedies I have seen in a while, so it gets a 10/10 from me.

11 March 2011

Good News Everyone!

Announcement:

As part of my next year in magazine journalism, I may be (and hopefully will be) doing a unit on film and reviewing. So watch this space, as many of my reviews will be placed here for you all to look at and critique to your hearts content.

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog so far and for my trusty followers.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Disclaimer: Today I was feeling like a comedy. Upon reading the cover that this was a 'hilarious, laugh out loud comedy', I decided to give it a go.

Zach and Miri are friends from school who have lived with each other ever since. They are totally broke. So, to get some money, they decide to make a porno. This is fairly self explanatory, and in fact the plot is quite predictable too: After having sex for the first time they realise they are in love and have a tiff over it, only to reunite later in the film.

This is literally the plot.

I didn't go into watching this film with many high expectations, and I was not disappointed. Seth Rogen is slightly amusing but swears rather too much for my liking. There is a great deal of nakedness, as you would expect. Justin Long, who I actually really like, only featured in one scene and was devastatingly bad in it, playing a fairly unconvicing gay porno producer.

The writing was poor at times, and I didn't find any of the dialogue confusing. Any humour I caught was slapstick, and if I'm honest, a bit too sweary for me to find it funny.

Still, the plot had a point. Don't have sex with someone else if you don't love them, even for money. Though clumsily written, the actual filming of the porno scenes were fairly amusing in their ability to make a satire of something I never thought could possibly be satired.

The cover also said that 'if you liked The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad, you'll love Zack and Miri'. I do like those films, and I don't think they could have been more wrong.

I would give this 2/10 for entertainment factor. The amusement factor was lacking for me. And the ending was too predictable for words.

8 March 2011

The Book of Lost Things - John Connolly

Chosen by 'The Times Books Group', The Book of Lost Things is an absolute page turner. It has action, suspense, intrigue and a dash of dark fairy tales to sink your teeth into.This book is the most interesting read I have had for a little while now. I dare say it may have topped even Joanne Harris's 'Five Quarters of the Orange', which i particularly enjoyed. John Connolly may just be a genius.

Although many of the factors contributing to the book are from commonly known fairy tales such as Rumpelstiltskin and Snow White, there is a distinctly adult air about it. However, I do think that children will be able to read it and enjoy the book in much the same way that I did.

The plot was very well planned, and didn't go where I expected it to in the slightest. it has a little bit of gore, but nothing that could cause a child any nightmares as such. It does remind me of a certain Alice in Wonderland, where she meets several different characters throughout her journey, after losing the previous one.

The story is set in the second world war, but is mainly inside a world very different and yet strangely not so different, to ours. It is first and foremost, about a boys transition into a young man. It deals with themes such as the death of a loved one, jealousy, betrayal and guilt all in a very adult way. This element is very interesting, considering this is meant to be a children's book. I think that children may not be able to fully grasp these themes as adults do, but nevertheless will enjoy reading them.

Fairytale are the stories that I enjoyed most ad a child, and i can see myself reflected in the main character; their love of reading, their inwardness. I think what the author has done here is cleverly made it so we all can see ourselves in the main character, in both children and adults. After all, no-one is exempt from feelings of anger, sadness and jealousy, just as no-one hated fairy tales when they were younger.

I especially like the way that the fairytale have been integrated into the story. Some, for example, red riding hood, are told as stories to the protagonist, whilst others are characters he meets, like Snow White. It is interesting to note that all of these stories have been changed in some way to add to to main plot of the story. Sleeping Beauty has been drastically altered, and yet you still recognise exactly which fairytale the book refers to.

The book is also very helpful. Not only does it have the actual novel, it also includes a question and answer from the author and some very interesting notes on the fairy tales and myths that he chose to use, including the script of the actual stories to read. I don't think it could get any better.

Overall this is an enticing, if dark, story with everything you could ever want to read involved. I can't get over how good this book was, and I therefore think I shall give this one 10/10. A really good read.

1 March 2011

Beastly - Alex Flinn

This next installation is a modern retelling of the classic fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, again by Alex Flinn. It is, as with 'A Kiss in Time', very much for teenagers as the protagonist is a 16 year old boy. However, I feel that this story has a lot more work gone into it than the version of Sleeping Beauty did.

The original story of Beauty and the Beast can be seen quite clearly in the plot of this version, and I personally like that the Disney version was also incorporated into it, though not so much that the story lost any reality that it might have had.

The rose garden, which is in the original story, was brought back into being, and I personally think that the symbolism of the rose in this particular book was very clever, if not subtle.

I did not think at first that I would like the modernity of the book. but it turned out to be very interestingly done. The chat room at the beginning that also includes characters from other fairy tales (the little mermaid, snow white and rose red, the princess and the frog) was completely unneeded. I think this tried to make it overtly modern and actually took away from what was already a good plot. The emotion that the beast shows in it could have easily been put into the main story rather than having the chat room.However, the rest was well done.

I have read many books that., although are for young adults, also appeal to an older audience. Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy is one, Harry Potter, of course, is another. But these books are so to do with younger people than myself, that I cannot put myself in their position and therefore lose myself in the book.

It may be that the author has also missed putting adult emotion in this book, thus rendering me incapable of feeling for the characters.5/10 for effort and cleverness, but it was again, too young for me.

19 February 2011

A Kiss in Time - Alex Flinn

'A Kiss in Time', by Alex Flinn is a modern retelling of the classic story: Sleeping Beauty. It seems to be aimed at younger teenagers due to the first person narrative of the 16 year old Princess and the 17 year old boy who wakes her. However, I read it anyway.

Having read other retellings of classic fairy tales such as Gregory Maguire's 'Mirror Mirror' and his 'Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister', I thought that this would be an interesting read because of it's modernity.

The story is very similar to begin with.The Princess is born, the witch casts a spell because she wasn't invited to the christening, the Princess pricks her finger on her 16th birthday and falls asleep.

That is where the similarities stop though. I was surprised to find that the Princess runs away to America and THEN falls in love with her 'Prince', only to be spirited back by the witch, who believes that the boy is not, in fact, her true love.

It is interesting to see how cleverly Flinn imagines the 18th century ways of the Princess affecting the way in which she approaches the 21st century, having slept for 300 years.The plot can get a bit samey at times, due to most of the book being in America, showing the growing love between the teenagers and how the princess adjusts to modern life, but the pace is good throughout.

The characters were average, as they were not very well delivered, which made them pretty one dimensional. Talia wants to travel and for Jack to love her. Jack wants to get rid of Talia and do gardening. Not a lot comes through about our characters other than what is said to us by the opinion of the other character.

The fact that it s split into the narrative voices of both Talia and Jack is good, at the beginning and at the end. In the middle, it wasn't really necessary, and it would have left a bit more to the imagination if we only had Talia's view.

I personally feel that there should be twists in the plot, and this book didn't fail me there. The end was interesting as the Princess needed to be rescued yet again, with her 'Prince' having to go through a number of tasks before he could find her. At the very end, however, it was exactly what I had expected, and this disappointed me a bit.

Overall I would say that this book is worth a read if you are interested in fairy tales and Disney, from which this book is surely based on. I would say that this book was slightly too young for me, but someone aged 16 or 17 would definitely enjoy it for its humour and its plot.

17 February 2011

Black Swan

Five times Oscar nominated 'Black Swan' was a complete and utter surprise from start to finish.I had heard so many good things about it by both people and in other reviews. The simple fact that it is nominated for an Oscar surely means that I would find it incredible.

The truth is, it is very very good. Not incredible so much, as the plot was quite obvious, with no twists as such. What it really does is tell the story of an innocent perfectionist ballerina who descends into madness whilst trying to understand and therefore live the role of the black swan, from Swan Lake.And my god, does it tell that story well.

We certainly see the whole story from Nina's (Natalie Portman) point of view, with the audience starting to see the changes in her as she does. We are shocked when she is, we cringe when she bleeds, when her legs break, we are terrified when she sees herself in the mirror, but not herself - the black swan, her bad side.The film, although I knew it had a 15 certificate was surprisingly gory, with an imagined murder, a hand being crushed twice in a door, faces being stabbed, legs broken and lots of bleeding.

It is definitely a psychological thriller, with the main character hallucinating a double of herself (a doppelganger) that she eventually seems to change into. We can see how her perfectionism leads her to take risks and to become destructive in her relationships as well as to herself. At the end she transforms into the black swan completely, with feathers bursting from her arms as she dances and embraces her new role.

And the very end seems quite complete, almost like it was always coming to it anyway. A perfect ending that mirrors Swan Lake and causes her story to be intertwined with that one in the audiences mind forever.

Natalie Portman was, as always, brilliant. Though I have to say, I think I preferred her character in 'V for Vendetta' a little more. If only because she wasn't so much of a sap.However, her portrayal of this ballerina falling into insanity is perfect. You feel like you really understand her and why she does what she does.

I personally liked the tiny things that were almost imperceptible to a normal viewer: The black and white colour scheme running throughout, and the flashes of vivid red that was reminiscent of a certain 'Sin City'. Her ring tone subtly changing to Swan Lake as she gets more into her roles.The fluid shots that connected the story together.

This film is certainly a one that I would watch again, and you won't be wasting two hours of your life if you see it too, no matter who you are.