This will be interesting. As I’m sure most of you have noticed, I have never done a monthly round-up before; mainly because I’m not sure if people would be interested in them. But I thought I would give them a go and see how the posts get on. I also thought it would be nice to look back on my reading and film watching on a monthly basis as I don’t normally reflect on these until the end of the year. Especially in regards to films, I normally do a ‘Top 10 of the year’ and that’s it; yet I watch on average 40 films at the cinema so a good portion of those are never discussed. Hopefully by writing about them in round-ups I can recommend good films that perhaps don’t make the final list. But without further ado I shall start with the books:
Books Read and Reviewed in January 2020
I shall just list them here with links to the reviews if you want to know my thoughts on them: I won’t rehash all my feelings here.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
January has been a very different start to the year. Normally I read fiction with maybe a couple of nonfictions littered throughout the year – go back three or four years ago I never read any nonfiction at all. So to have three books out of seven falling into this category is highly unusual for me. Certainly I have been enjoying nonfiction a lot more lately – my top 3 books of last year were all nonfiction – and it is a genre that I wish to explore more and already have my eye on a couple of biographies that sound interesting. Mark Twain is quoted as saying “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” Perhaps that’s why I’ve been finding nonfiction so compelling. Saying that, I have been busy reading two novels: The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood so maybe my nonfiction binge will come to an end.
Films in January 2020
I’ve made four trips to the cinema in January, and all of them are Oscar nominees. Awards season sees me binging on a lot of films, trying to see as many of the nominees as possible, so expect to see a few of them in February too. I will just discuss them in the order I saw them:
Little Women (dir. Greta Gerwig)
I don’t need to explain the plot as everyone knows it. In regards to the film, I loved it. Gerwig has changed the structure of the story, alternating between past and present, and it works brilliantly. It helps to alleviate many of the problems I had whilst reading Alcott’s novel, especially the Jo and Professor Bhaer relationship. This is explored a little at the beginning of the film, but even those small scenes really establish their feelings for one another. Plus, the fact Bhaer is now closer to Jo’s age and not condescending towards her writing helps. The acting is excellent, especially from Florence Pugh as Amy, a character that is normally despised. Here she is a very sympathetic, likable person, which is due to Gerwig’s writing and Pugh’s thoughtful portrayal. It was interesting getting to know her more and exploring her relationship with Laurie more. The cinematography was also gorgeous, and the use of warm vs cold colours to symbolise the two timelines was well done. I can talk about this film and how glorious it is all day, in particular the ending which would have made Alcott proud.
Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Watiti)
This has been described as an ‘anti-hate satire’ and is set during World War Two. Our protagonist is Johannes ‘Jojo’ (Roman Griffin Davis) a young boy who is a member of the Hitler Youth. He’s so enamoured with the leader that he is Jojo’s imaginary best friend (Watiti). Yet, Jojo’s beliefs start to come into question when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house. I have heard some people complain that it went too far so it wasn’t funny. I actually think the opposite, that Watiti could have explored the satirical elements more, especially in regards to the character played by Stephen Merchant. However, that is probably my only critique of the film as I had a great time watching it. Sam Rockwell as the Hitler Youth leader was the highlight for me, combining both humour and pathos into his small role. The use of pop music as well was spot on and a really clever addition – I had to stop myself from joining in on Bowie’s Heroes. Despite the rather grim subject matter, I still found this to be a heart-warming, funny film.
Bombshell (dir. Jay Roach)
Bombshell is a semi-fictionalised account of the scandal that rocked Fox News: when a group of women, spearheaded by Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) accused head Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) of sexual assault and discussed the overall toxic atmosphere in those offices. It is easy to understand why Charlize Theron (looking startlingly like Megyn Kelly) and Margot Robbie, playing a fictional character, are receiving award nominations. Both are phenomenal, along with Kidman and Lithgow, who is terrifying as Ailes. As someone who remembers the events that ultimately brought down Ailes and Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly, I found this a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes yet perhaps those unfamiliar with the people involved might feel differently. The opening segment, featuring Theron/Kelly wandering around explaining the different floors in the Fox building, felt a little unnecessary and clunky. I know this was for people who didn’t know the story, but it felt like it stalled the plot from beginning. Having her speaking directly into the camera, breaking the fourth wall, also totally threw me off. It was an interesting choice made by Roach but I’m not completely convinced it paid off. Still, a solid and painfully relevant film.
1917 (dir. Sam Mendes)
Yep, I saw a World War One and Two movie in the same month. 1917 though is far more serious than Jojo Rabbit: we follow young soldiers Blake and Schofield (played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) who must deliver an important message to call off an attack: 1,600 men are about to walk straight into a trap. Most discussions around this film centre on the fact it was filmed to look like one continous shot. It is certainly impressive to look at, and helps to up the tension – already palpable from Mendes’ direction and the brilliant score by Thomas Newman. The feeling of dread seems to linger over every frame. Interestingly, there is only a handful of scenes of violence in 1917, with the aftermath of battles being shown in the back- and middle ground. This gives the sense of danger around every corner. The two performances by Chapman and MacKay are brilliant, and I wish they had got more recognition this awards season. Their friendship was really believable and I genuinely cared for their characters. In a cast which included Colin Firth, Richard Madden, and Benedict Cumberbatch (admittedly in cameos) these two really shone in the film.
And that is it for January! Let me know if you’ve either read any of the books or seen any of the films mentioned and what you thought of them! Also, let me know if you like monthly round-ups and would like to see more of them, it’s always nice to get some feedback so I can improve the blog.