Monthly Round-Up: November 2020

It’s hard to imagine that this is the penultimate monthly round up of 2020; that the next time I write one of these, my top books and films of the year will be released. I’m already thinking of those lists and who is going to make the cut, but before I properly start to panic, here’s what I read in November:

  1. The God’s Wife by Sarah Holz
  2. Journey by Andrew Zimmerman
  3. Savagery by JC Mehta
  4. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
  5. Ode to America by Odette Fraser
  6. Tales of Woe by Tay Reem

I have really been enjoying my poetry collections as of late, so I’m not surprised they dominate last month’s reading. Though for someone who was really keen to join in Non-Fiction November, I’ve successfully managed to not read a single non-fiction book in November. Whoops! Bad book blogger! Thursday’s post is a non-fiction review, however, so I may redeem myself a little…maybe.

Whilst I may have been neglecting my non-fiction reading, November has been a great month for films. With both the Catalan and French Film Festivals happening, I’ve been spoilt for choice. I’ve already mentioned my top 5 short films of the Catalan Film Fest, but here is the feature length movies that have graced my big (and small) screens:

Films Watched in November 2020

Wolfwalkers (dirs: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart)

Wolfwalkers.png

Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey) is a young, wannabe hunter living in Kilkenny, Ireland with her father Bill (Sean Bean). Bill is a hunter employed by the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) to rid the nearby forest of wolves so the land may be used for farming. Defying her father’s orders, one night Robyn sneaks off into the woods and meets Mebh (Eva Whittaker), a member of the magical, shape-shifting wolfwalkers. The two girls quickly become friends, and set off to find Mebh’s missing mother. Wolfwalkers is one of the most visually stunning films of 2020. The loose line work helps to create a very nostalgic feel – one is reminded of the animated films from childhood. There is something quite rough and ready about the artwork, making it all the more personal and intimate. The polished look of Disney and Pixar is nowhere to be seen, and the film benefits from that. Whilst I agree with some critics’ assertion that the film’s tone is uneven, it didn’t really affect my enjoyment. The fun plot, the serious environmental message, and the gorgeous visuals more than made up for any problems with tone. Definitely one for animation lovers.

How to be a Good Wife (dir: Martin Provost)

La-bonne-epouse-french-movie-poster-md.jpg

It is 1967 and Paulette Van Der Beck (Juliette Binoche) runs a school for good housekeeping with husband Robert (Francois Berleand) and sister-in-law Gilberte (Yolande Moreau). When Robert dies unexpectedly, Paulette is left to take charge of the school and its unruly pupils. However, revolution is around the corner, and the girls might have other ideas that simply being housewives… Binoche is excellent as always as Paulette, a woman who is forced to take control of both the school and herself. Her friendships with both Gilberte and nun/teacher Marie-Therese (Noemie Lvovsky) were really entertaining to watch, and all three stars had great chemistry. I also really enjoyed the subplots involving some of the pupils, and the young actresses definitely excelled in their roles. However, the ending was a bit disappointing. I felt there were a couple of loose ends which was frustrating, and the musical number was downright bizarre. It’s a pity, as the film had the right balance of humour and drama until this point, when it becomes just plain baffling. If you’re a fan of Binoche, then you may like How to Be a Good Wife. It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is a fun, breezy couple of hours.

My Mexican Bretzel (dir: Nuria Giménez)

My Mexican Bretzel (2019) - IMDb

Spanning two decades, My Mexican Bretzel tells the story of Vivian and Leon Barrett. Combining extracts from Vivian’s diary and footage filmed by Leon across the years, the film is an intimate look at the Barrett’s’ marriage. My Mexican Bretzel is a thought-provoking, fascinating film, and I loved every second of it. Giménez brilliantly blurs the line between fact and fiction, an idea which becomes more layered the more it is ruminated on. There is the suggestion of filmmaking as a way of blurring or distorting reality – intentionally or not. Also, why do we film certain things but not others? How do people choose what gets to be recorded and viewed? These sorts of questions don’t necessarily have to be strictly about film, but all artistic mediums. The attempt to control life, which is uncontrollable. Yet this idea can be expanded even further, questioning memory and whether what we remember is accurate or not. The fact that the audience never hears any dialogue, we never hear what the people onscreen are saying, helps add to this blurring. We’re left to make it up ourselves. My Mexican Bretzel is a voyeuristic film, tackling the distinction between reality and fantasy. It asks more questions than it answers, and is one that I will be thinking of weeks afterwards.

Jaume Plensa: Can You Hear Me? (dir: Pedro Ballesteros)

Can You Hear Me? (2020) - Filmaffinity

The final film of November is the documentary Can You Hear Me? The film is centred on the famous sculptor Jaume Plensa who, at the beginning, is working on his project ‘Voices’ which is to be exhibited in the lobby of 30 Hudson Yards, New York City. Ballesteros also looks back at some of Plensa’s previous work. Can You Hear Me? feels very much like a tribute to public art in all its forms. Whilst Ballesteros is tackling one artist, it seems to celebrate art and how it shapes public spaces. Plensa himself is a fascinating man, and is incredibly candid about his work here. It was interesting listening to him speak about his art and the effects he was trying to achieve with different pieces. I could’ve listened to him for hours his process was so captivating. Given that it is discussing art, it is no surprise the film is a visual feast itself. A lot of the city shots were beautifully photographed and really captured the vibe of the different locations. If you’re a fan of Agnes Varda’s Faces Places then I think you’ll really enjoy Can You Hear Me? Both tackle the relationship between art and public spaces brilliantly.    

Top 5 Short Films at Catalan Film Festival 2020

When lockdown began way back in March this year – yes, it really was this year – CinemaAttic began releasing 10 short films a week. Founded in December 2008 in Edinburgh, CinemaAttic is a great platform showcasing Spanish and Latin-American films, and anyone remotely interested in Spain and Spanish culture should definitely check them out. Having new movies and directors to discover really lifted my spirits and has made the last few months more bearable. Meaning, when I heard they were hosting the Catalan Film Festival (19th November to 6th December) I quickly nabbed a pass.

Every year the Catalan Film Festival presents lectures, talks with directors, as well as screenings of both short and feature films. At only £10 for a whole pass it is remarkable value. Since it began on the 19th November, I have already binged watched the two Catalan Shorts 2020 strands. The quality was so high across both strands, it was truly impressive. Several times I found myself googling the different directors; their passion and creativity in bringing these stories to life was apparent. Sadly I can’t speak about all of them – otherwise this post will be of biblical length. So, I thought: why not talk about my favourite 5 films? Perhaps there are others who will enjoy these shorts, plus it’s always nice to discover new talent.

But I’ve babbled on enough, let’s get into the films:

5. Calvario (Calvary) dir. Lluis Margarit

Pablo has just broken up with his girlfriend and starts to feel paranoid that his hair loss has contributed to the relationship ending. What follows is his bizarre attempts at regaining his confidence. Calvario is brilliantly executed; it successfully tackles the idea of male body positivity in a very funny, relatable manner. Pablo (wonderfully played by Juan Luppi) is such a sympathetic character that you can’t help but root for him. He’s just so likable and Luppi’s performance elevates the character. The script, co-written by Margarit, is tightly-paced with nothing feeling extraneous. It definitely has a similar vibe to Seth Rogen movies, so if you like them then you will enjoy Calvario.  

4. Panteres (Panthers) dir. Erika Sanchez

Panteres (2020) - IMDb

Speaking of body positivity, next on the list is Erika Sanchez’s Panteres. Joana is a teenage girl who is very comfortable in her body, the complete opposite of her friend/girlfriend Nina who struggles with an eating disorder. Panteres feels like a celebration of the female body, in all its forms. The film opens and closes with close-ups of different bodies, complete with scars and stretchmarks – it feels very defiant. The two performances by Laia Capdevita and Rime Kopoboru were also incredible; they managed to convey so much despite the little dialogue they had. Sanchez captured the anxieties teenagers have over their bodies, whilst also celebrating the female form.     

3. Candela dirs. Anna Solanas and Marc Riba

Anna Molins | Shorts

Curmudgeonly old woman Candela follows the same routine day-in day-out. However, her simple life is about to change when her regular bus fails to turn up and a young girl starts to play in her building. Solanas and Riba tell their stories through stop-motion and I enjoy the distinctive look of their puppets. Both the figures and the backgrounds feel very unique and visually were a pleasure to watch. The plot of Candela seems terrifyingly relevant considering the current circumstances. The film conveys the idea of loneliness, especially the isolation some elderly can experience, with great sensitivity and flair. Visually striking and topical, Candela is a brilliant film. Any fans of animation would be remiss if they don’t seek out Solanas and Riba’s work.

2. Dignitat (Dignity) dir. David Gonzalez

Festival de Cine de L'Alfàs del Pi (2020) - IMDb

A mother and son leave their flat and begin to walk around the city and are later joined by their daughter/sister. They wait anxiously as they can’t return to their flat until noon. Dignitat is the most heart-breaking film I’ve seen this year. Whilst the film’s main topic is not explicitly stated until the end, it is very apparent early on in the narrative. The small allusions to assisted suicide are dropped throughout, making the atmosphere more and more tense. It became unbearable by the end, but it is impossible to look away. The theme is loaded, and there will definitely be debates on the film, but Gonzalez did a brilliant job of neither sensationalising or condemning the characters for their decisions. In fact, the simplistic, matter-of-fact manner in which the story is told helped make it all the more tragic. A powerful, poignant piece of filmmaking.

1. Ara Crema dir. Núria Gascón Bartomeu

CinemaAttic (@CinemaAttic) | Twitter

My top pick of the festival shorts also happens to be literally the shortest film out of all of them, clocking in at only one minute. Bartomeu intercuts footage of a burning sofa with family portraits with a face cut out. It is through the voiceover that the viewer understands the significance of the images. Despite the length, Ara Crema delivers a massive gut punch. It is horrifying, yet the act of destroying the sofa almost seems strangely cathartic. The viewer feels as though a pressure has been lifted, a door has been shut. Short but powerful. I was initially sceptical of watching it given the runtime, but it is worth it.

And that’s my picks of the shorts at the Catalan Film Festival 2020. I’ve left links to CinemaAttic and the fest down below if you’re interested. As I mentioned previously, their selections are definitely worth watching.  

The CinemaAttic website and Facebook. This year’s festival line-up can be found here.

4 Books for Non-Fiction November

Since we are now in the second week of Nonfiction November, it seems like a great time to suggest some recommendations. I only started reading nonfiction regularly two years ago – I was intimidated by it, frightened that I wouldn’t understand or would be bored by the information dumps and stale text. I was completely, utterly wrong and, having got over my fear of nonfiction, managed to discover some brilliant books. These are just 4 that I’ve enjoyed over the last couple of years, and if I have reviewed them on the blog, I will link to my reviews in case you want to know more.

But, without further ado, let’s dive into the books:

The Five – Hallie Rubenhold

Given how popular this book was at the beginning of 2020, I’m sure most people will have heard of it. But in case you haven’t, Rubenhold delves into the lives of the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper, and discusses how the mythology surrounding the women came to be. The Five is a well-researched, refreshing take on a much-written about case. Yet Rubenhold focuses on the women, which in turn gives them their humanity back. They are not simply footnotes; they are living, breathing people whose lives up until this point had mainly been ignored. Another aspect that I really admired was how Rubenhold also explored life in Victorian Britain. She delves into how women lived in the 19th century and successfully conveyed a lot of information in an engaging, concise manner. Whilst Ripper enthusiasts may not like how Rubenhold barely discusses the case, The Five is still a fascinating glimpse into five women and their lives.

The Radium Girls – Kate Moore

I loved The Radium Girls so much it is still one of my favourite books of 2020. The book follows two sets of women working in radium-dial factories where they were obviously surrounded by this shining chemical, often going out covered from head to toe in it. Years pass, and the women begin to fall mysteriously ill. When they begin to realise the effect radium is having on them, they begin to complain and sue their employers, who claim that the chemical is harmless. The Radium Girls reads like a fast-paced thriller, it is just so engrossing. There were moments I couldn’t put the book down, I needed to know what was going to happen. The amount of twists and turns the story takes is remarkable, and it is hard to believe that it is non-fiction. In some ways, that realisation makes The Radium Girls equally horrifying and saddening yet powerful. One that I keep shoving into the hands of everyone I know.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

Again, another one most people will surely know. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the first memoir by poet Maya Angelou, tracing her childhood from living with her grandmother to becoming a single mum at the age of 16. Angelou is incredibly candid about her youth, especially in regard to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. The passages discussing this were hugely disturbing, and there were instances when I had to look away. But that isn’t my main takeaway from the book. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ultimately feels like a book about hope, which comes from Angelou herself. By the end she is confident, determined young woman who is driven to achieve her dreams in life, and I found that admirable. Despite the trauma that she went through, she never lost hope and that helped make I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings perhaps the best memoir I’ve read.

The Big Screen – David Thomson

It wouldn’t be a non-fiction list without me adding a book about Hollywood, would it? Here Thomson takes on the mammoth task of discussing the entire history of film – from the 1880s to the present day (well, the 2000s, when the book was published). And he does a phenomenal job. Thomson evidently loves film, his passion seeps through his writing and in turn makes the reader become both interested and invested in what he’s saying.  He’s also a very witty writer, and his snarkier remarks made me smile. It helps make the book as a whole more engaging and accessible to readers. Another critic said The Big Screen made him want to watch all the movies mentioned on the biggest screen possible. I couldn’t agree more, and it spurred me to seek out some of the films I previously hadn’t seen. A must for all film buffs.   

Monthly Round Up: October 2020

As we near the end of the month, it is time for me to look back on October. Despite having a slight Wi-Fi-related hiccup in the middle of the month, I managed to squeeze in some pretty good books. I’ve linked my reviews below in case you might have missed them:

Books Read in October 2020:

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Atomic Kiss by Brendan S. Bigney

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

War is Personal by Roy & Elaine Wilkes

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

How to Stay Out of the Emergency Room by Dr. Mona Balogh

I also read From Here to Eternity, An American Tragedy, and The Young Lions as part of my Books vs Film, which I just started this month. I had a lot of fun reading/watching and researching that post so I’ll probably make it a monthly post. October also seemed to be the month for award winners, with my reading both Hamnet and The Discomfort of Evening. They deal with a very similar topic – the death of a beloved child – and it was interesting comparing how both writers deal with it. I really enjoyed (if that is the appropriate word?) the two novels and it is hard to say which one I preferred. Both obviously deserved the plaudits they received, and it is surprising that Hamnet didn’t make the Booker longlist. It is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year, it was so devastating yet beautiful.

So in October I only watched 1 film at the cinema. I’m watching Rebecca this weekend so wish me luck with that one everyone! Given the pretty bad reviews it’s not looking promising. But back to October…

Films Watched in October 2020

Kajillionaire (dir. Miranda July)

Kajillionaire poster.jpeg

Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood) helps her parents (Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger) to scam and steal at every opportunity. During one of these schemes, the family meets Melanie (Gina Rodriguez) and quickly take her into their confidence. Old Dolio and Melanie are wary of each other at first but grow closer as the true relationship between the parents and daughter is exposed. Kajillionaire reminded me of the work of Sean Baker, not just in terms of plot but also cinematography. The world was visually stunning to look at, completely at odds with the characters’ plight. It made me more invested in Old Dolio and wanting her to succeed. As well as directing July also wrote the screenplay, a glaringly apparent fact if you have read any of her other work. She has a wonderful ability of mixing dark and borderline farcical humour with very touching, heartfelt moments and allowing both those aspects to thrive in the narrative. The humour never undercuts the human drama; equally the quieter moments never detract from the more comical elements. July’s aided by a solid cast who all turn in strong performances. As the lead Wood does an amazing job as Dolio attempts to connect to the world around her and break from her parents’ grip. But it was Winger’s speech halfway through the film that felt like a gut-punch; devastating but so wonderfully acted that it was impossible to look away. Tender and funny, Kajillionaire is definitely one to watch.

And that is my October rounded up! Let me know what you’ve been reading and watching this month in the comments below!

Book vs Film: Montgomery Clift

As some people will already know, the two things I love talking about are books and films. I have wanted to create a series centring on both for a while now, one that wasn’t my monthly round-ups. And so, I decided to start ‘Book vs Film’ where I talk about novels and their film adaptations, and ultimately decide which one is better. Each one will revolve around an actor and actress, and who better to kick things off than Montgomery Clift.

Clift is possibly my favourite actor. He is so compelling to watch and even when he is not the main focus of the scene I still find myself looking at him. All of his characters feel realistic; they don’t feel like melodramatic, heightened versions of people, they feel like people. He had a much more subtle acting style than his peers, and indeed, some actors working today. Coupled with the fact that 17th October would have been Clift’s 100th birthday (spoiler alert: Random Book Quiz on Saturday may be loosely connected to this) he seems the obvious choice for the Book vs Film post.

Despite only starring in 17 movies during his career, a whopping 11 of them were adaptations of novels, plays, and short stories. Because this post would be longer than War & Peace if I attempted all 11, I’ve picked perhaps 3 of Clift’s most famous films: From Here to Eternity (1953), A Place in the Sun (1951) and The Young Lions (1958).  

So here we go –  I’ve read 3 books and watched their film adaptations starring Montgomery Clift. But which one did I like more?

From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity - Wikipedia

Plot: Set at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, 1941, soldier and bugler Robert E. Lee ‘Prew’ Prewitt arrives to his new posting in G Company. However, upon arrival he discovers that the Commanding Officer has only chosen him for his ability to box, something Prew refuses to participate in. As a result, he is targeted and harassed by members of the boxing team. Meanwhile, First Sergeant Warden begins an affair with the Commanding Officer’s wife Karen and Prew falls in love with prostitute Lorene as the attack on Pearl Harbour looms closer…

Thoughts: Both versions of From Here to Eternity are great but very different. Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra) has a much greater part in the film, whilst in the book he is very much a secondary character. I much preferred book Maggio – his character arc was far more interesting, and Sinatra always felt like he was playing himself. The rest of the main cast – Clift, Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, and Donna Reed – fare much better in their respective roles, though admittedly it was a tad bizarre to hear Reed’s Lorene referred to as a ‘nightclub hostess’. It is understandable due to the Hays Code warning filmmakers about showing ‘the sale of women, or of a woman selling her virtue’, but in 2020 it’s odd. In fact, the film version as a whole could be described as ‘tame’: the swearing, mentions of prostitution, STIS, and homosexuality in the novel are completely removed. The two relationships mentioned in the plot also feel more developed in the book; the reader sees the highs and lows of both whilst in the film that only briefly occurs in a couple of scenes.

Book vs Film: Probably the book. While I do enjoy the film, the book feels a lot more realistic in terms of dialogue and tackles a lot of heavier subjects than its movie counterpart. Like I mentioned, the restrictions on filmmakers during this period probably meant they were unable to highlight certain topics, but I will still give the edge to the book.

An American Tragedy/ A Place in the Sun

A Place In The Sun' (2) 1951 - Fantastic A4 Glossy Print Taken From A  Vintage Movie Poster: Amazon.co.uk: Design Artist: Books

Plot: Theodore Dreiser’s novel follows Clyde Griffiths (George Eastman in the film) who is raised by his strict religious parents to help in their missionary work. Following a tragic incident which forces Clyde to leave Kansas City for Chicago, he meets his wealthy uncle Samuel. Taking pity on his nephew, Samuel offers him a job in a clothes factory and Clyde happily accepts. However, he quickly finds himself in a love triangle between factory worker Roberta (Alice) and wealthy socialite Sondra (Angela). 

Thoughts: Dreiser’s novel is incredibly melodramatic, with one things after another constantly happening to Clyde. He is a very unsympathetic character, especially with the incident in the first half of the novel. His actions regarding that I found abhorrent, and it was really hard trying to muster up any other emotion. Even the ending made me a little cold. In A Place in the Sun, because it skips the first section of the novel out, I found George more engaging. Obviously, he also does terrible things but he was also strangely relatable, especially in his wanting to better himself. I also really enjoyed Elizabeth Taylor as Angela, she had a wonderful mix of glamour and innocence, and it was clear why George would want to be with her. Shelley Winters as Alice wasn’t as convincing. At first she was a milquetoast, then by the end she was downright annoying and whiny. Alice should have our sympathies, but she was such a bland character it was hard to feel anything. She was just there; present only for the plot but given no real personality of her own. 

Book vs Film: Controversial opinion, but I preferred the film A Place in the Sun. It filleted a lot out of the novel, and it felt a lot more cohesive because of that. Looking back, An American Tragedy probably didn’t need to be as long as it was. And as much as I didn’t like Winters, both Clift and Taylor gave great performances.

The Young Lions

The Young Lions [DVD] [1958]: Amazon.co.uk: Marlon Brando, Montgomery  Clift, Dean Martin, Hope Lange, Maximilian Schell, Edward Dmytryk, Marlon  Brando, Montgomery Clift: DVD & Blu-ray

Plot: Set during World War Two, The Young Lions follows the lives of three soldiers. Christian Diestl, worried about his future, joins the Nazi Party. Noah Ackerman and Michael Whitacre join the American army; Ackerman, who is Jewish, suffers anti-Semitism from his fellow officers whilst Whitacre seems to be having a mid-life crisis. We watch these three as they struggle to survive the war and eventually their lives intertwine.    

Thoughts: I have saved the hardest one to decide until last; both book and film versions of The Young Lions have different pros and cons. I much preferred how Christian was portrayed in the book. Brando (with some form of ‘German’ accent) played him a lot more sympathetically, and while his portrayal was interesting to watch, it didn’t make his character stand out against Clift’s or Dean Martin’s. There was no contrast in the characters, no opposition, whilst in the book Christian always feels like a different entity. He becomes hardened the longer he is exposed to war, and that was fascinating to contemplate how he lost his humanity. Yet I really liked Martin’s performance, he captured Michael’s anxiety over life and his reluctance of warfare very well. I liked Michael’s arc in the film more too. Clift’s Noah was also great, though I found his relationship with Hope (Hope Lange) very sudden. They only have a handful of scenes together so there wasn’t enough time to fully develop it  in front of the audience – though I know of at least one scene that got cut.  

Book vs Film: Sorry Monty, but I’m going with the book. Ask me tomorrow, and I might switch back to the film. The movie has a lot going for it and would highly recommend it for those into war dramas. But the characters arcs were depicted a lot better in the Irwin Shaw’s novel, and the ending I found much more satisfying.  

Hope you enjoyed this post! Let me know what you think of this new series and any improvements you think I can make.  Also, if there are any actors/actresses you would like to see me do, then leave me a comment below.    

Monthly Round-Up: September 2020

As September draws to a close it is time for another monthly round up. Admittedly between the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Booker Prize shortlist being announced, there have been less reviews this month. But I think I still had a nice selection regardless:

September had a really great mixture of genres, of fiction, short stories, and non-fiction. I do think Butler’s Kindred has been the stand out from this month’s reading; it’s a book I still haven’t quite shaken off and find myself thinking about in odd moments. Another one that has definitely burrowed under my skin is Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, which I’ll review on Thursday. But – spoilers – I loved it. There were a couple of times when I had to put the book down because I found it incredibly emotional but ultimately it was a rewarding reading experience, but I will discuss it in more depth later on. It’s certainly I really want to talk about with others, because there’s just so much to say.

In between my (constant) discussion of literary prizes, my local cinema opened up this month for the first time since March. I managed to catch three films in September, all of them very different from each other, but all worth checking out.

Films in September 2020

Away (dir. Gints Zilbalodis)

Kicking things off is Away, the debut feature film of Latvian director Zilbalodis. As well as directing, Zilbalodis produced, wrote, edited, animated, and scored the music (phew!) to the film, making it all the more impressive. A young boy, the sole survivor of a plane crash, wakes up on a mysterious island and is immediately confronted by large, black spirit-monster. He manages to escape and sets off to find civilisation, but the threatening spirit is never that far behind…

Despite having no dialogue, you are easily drawn into this world, a testament to Zilbalodis’ music. It is evocative without overpowering, and helps to create an emotional connection between the boy and the viewer. We experience the world through his eyes, and the music was excellent in conveying his emotional journey, whether that be wonder or fear. The animation was incredibly unique; nothing I had seen before. I read some reviews comparing it to video games, which I could see when looking at the ‘characters’ when they move. But those landscapes shots are so breathtakingly gorgeous that the comparisons melted away and I was totally invested in this story. It is extraordinary that the film was made by one person, and Zilbalodis’ passion emanates from the screen, making Away all the more enjoyable. It is an uplifting tale about life and one that all animation lovers should check out. I was blown away by Away.  

Les Miserables (dir. Ladj Ly)

Les misérables (2019) - Filmaffinity

Scooping up Best Film at February’s Cesar Awards (we won’t mention Best Director), Les Miserables is the first narrative film by Ly. Set in Montfermeil, Paris, young police officer Stephane (Damien Bonnard) has just recently transferred to the anti-crime unit. Meanwhile, tensions rise between local gangs. When Stephane and fellow officers Chris (Alexis Manenti) and Gwada (Djibril Zonga) are involved in a crime, the delicate balance of the neighbourhood threatens to spiral out of their control.

I don’t see why I paid for a cinema seat when I was just hanging off the edge the entire time. Les Miserables is one of the most tense, nail-biting thrillers I have watched in recent years. Ly’s carefully crafted story is swimming with subdued violence, threatening to burst through the surface at any moment. The characters are all walking on a knife edge and the audience very quickly joins them, so much so that when the chaos does come it almost feels like a relief. Watching how Stephane quickly changes, and perhaps not in a good way, highlights how easy it is to be sucked into a world brimming with violence. Yet whilst I enjoyed Bonnard’s performance, it was Zonga as Gwada, plus child actors Issa Perica and Al-Hassan Ly that really stood out. Zonga manages to capture the conflicted Gwada perfectly, and it is hard to imagine that Les Miserables was the first film of his younger co-stars, they were completely believable as their respective characters tangled in a world of crime. With perhaps one of the best endings of 2020 in film, Les Miserables works as both a tight, pacey thriller and a poignant social commentary.  

Tenet (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Tenet (film) - Wikipedia

Nolan’s latest sees ‘The Protagonist’ (John David Washington) sent on a mission after completing a harrowing test. Helped by the mysterious Neil (Robert Pattinson), The Protagonist must stop Russian businessman Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) from destroying the world, recruiting Sator’s wife Kat (Elizabeth Debecki) in the process. How will he stop this? By using Sator’s technology against him and reverting the flow of time of course! Since Nolan loves to play with the concept of time, I’ve decided to honour this by reverting my review. Have fun reading!

.tnecca ‘naissuR’ s’hganarB erongi nac uoy fi – gnitca tneced dna seceip noitca taerg ylurt htiw retsubkcolb remmus lanigiro na – saw ti tahw rof teneT yojne did I ,llarevO .mlif eht fo tnemyojne ym liops t’ndid ti dna ,ecno em ot deneppah sihT .duol oot gnieb stceffe dnuos eht dna eugolaid gniraeh ton fo denialpmoc evah elpoep wonk I ,dnuos fo smret nI .noitcennoc yna leef dna mlif eht htiw egagne ot redrah si ti spahrep taht snaem tI .mlif eht gnitalupop elpoep eht naht saedi dna semeht no desucof erom ,krow suoiverp s’naloN naht nevird-retcarahc ssel si sihT .tnempoleved retcarahc fo smret ni htiw krow ot tol a evah t’nod yeht ,tsac yltnaillirb era ikcibeD dna ,nosnittaP ,notgnihsaW tslihw dna ,yvaeh noitisopxe yrev si eugolaid ehT .tpircs eht si hguoht nwod teneT stel tahW .seye eht rof tsaef a si ti yllausiv dna ,aedi on evah I detucexe erew eseht fo emos woH .elbidercni era stnuts dna stceffe laiceps eht ,mlif naloN yna htiw sa ,yltsriF .ti dehctaw I ecnis em no nworg sah mlif eht osla tub ,sreliops fo esuaceb ylniam ,teneT ssucsid ot drah si tI

Let me know what you’ve been reading and watching this week, and what your favourite has been!

Thoughts on the Booker Prize Shortlist 2020

As mentioned in my monthly round up for August, I was waiting to see who made the Booker shortlist before deciding to read them all, and on the 15th September the 6 books were announced. In case you’ve been living under a rock, they were:

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Like everyone else I was surprised that Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light didn’t make the cut. It seemed almost inevitable its name would be one of the six and its omission is a bit of a shock, especially considering how both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies won in their respective years. Other than that, my thoughts on the Booker shortlist?

Meh.

Let’s start with the positives: it is exciting to have so many debut authors on the list, with 4 of the 6 being first novels. Out of these I’m interested in Shuggie Bain. And no, not just because I am also Scottish (though intrigued by the 1980s Glasgow setting).  It has been receiving rave reviews from both critics and readers alike for its devastating portrait of an alcoholic mother and her relationship with her son. I really enjoy books that focus on familial dynamics so, whilst I think this will send me into floods of tears, I’m excited to get to this one. Speaking of family relationships, another debut that’s calling my name is Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar. Instead of mother-son though we have a mother-daughter duo, with Antara confronting the idea of being a carer for her mother Tara. This one will hit close to home, but it sounds so compelling I will pick it up anyway.

The final novel I’m curious about is The Shadow King. The plot is very much up my alley; a historical novel set in 1974 in Ethiopia, we follow young maid Hirut who hatches a plan trick the invading Italian army and encourages women to take up arms. Women’s experiences of war always fascinate me, and thanks to the Women’s Prize, I’ve read a lot of those this year. It will be interesting to compare to them all. Also, it is tackling a period of history I know nothing about, and I would like to learn more.    

Sadly though, that is where my interests end. Neither The New Wilderness or Real Life are grabbing my attention and unless they triumph at the ceremony in November, it is doubtful I will read them. Dystopians and campus novels have also been very hit or miss for me in the past, and that’s my biggest hurdle with these books. My reluctance with This Mournable Body is mainly due to the fact it’s a sequel and I have never read the previous books, whilst I had read Wolf Hall by Mantel. I’m not familiar with Dangarembga’s characters and am therefore unsure whether I could review the book in a manner it deserves. Things like character development would be harder to describe or note when I don’t have the full arc to analyze. The plot does sound interesting though so who knows, I might ignore my worries and dive in.

So overall, it is a mixed bag. I will definitely get to Shuggie Bain, Burnt Sugar, and The Shadow King at some point. The others? I’m not sure. But what do you think of the Booker shortlist? Are you planning on reading them all? And if you have read any, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below!           

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Thoughts and Winner Prediction

On Wednesday 9th September, the winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 will be crowned. It seems strange to be discussing the Women’s Prize in September but it has been a strange year overall – though the September date gave me more time to read the shortlist. At time of writing, I have read 4 of the 6 shortlistees and I have linked my reviews below as I won’t go into too much depth about my thoughts on the individual books.

The Mirror & The Light – Hilary Mantel

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

A Thousand Ships – Natalie Haynes

Weather – Jenny Offill

I am also around a quarter of the way through both Dominicana and Hamnet, so hopefully will have finished both by the end of the month. Currently I am enjoying both, though I can see why Dominicana has split opinion. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel progresses and if my impressions will change. With regards to Hamnet, I am liking it though I was surprised by the more magical elements of the novel. Shakespeare is no stranger to writing about witches so it understandable, I was just slightly thrown off by it at first.

Overall, this is the most interesting Women’s Prize shortlist I’ve read in a while. I’ve not had strong reactions to any of the books (yet). In some ways this is great, as I’ve not read a book I absolutely detested but it also means I’ve not found one I love either. All the books are enjoyable and worth a read but none have quite grabbed me like, for example, The Dark Circle from the 2017 shortlist did. It makes it a lot harder to decide who will win this year as I attempt to weigh the books and their different pros and cons against each other. But I will try and write my thoughts down into coherent sentences.

The Mirror & the Light – actually the Wolf Hall trilogy as a whole – is a stunning achievement. It will more than likely make the Booker Prize shortlist later this month and is one of the favourites to win. But because of this I think it might not win the Women’s Prize. I would be delighted if it did, but it doesn’t seem likely given the love the trilogy has received from Booker judges. The Women’s Prize might want to pick a novel that hasn’t already achieved the critical acclaim and hype this book has. Girl, Woman, Other also falls into this category; a Booker winner who has since become an absolute juggernaut, praised by both critics and readers. It has been everywhere in 2020. Out of the shortlist, I think The Mirror… and Girl… are the most accomplished novels and either would make a worthy winner. Who knows, they might win come Wednesday, and they would certainly be my top two choices. But perhaps the judges will want to look elsewhere.

Admittedly whilst I haven’t completed the two novels, I think Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet has a better chance than Dominicana.  The latter’s divisive reviews means it would certainly be a controversial choice – though it would be interesting to see the reactions if it did win. But O’Farrell is a very popular author who (as far as I’m aware) has never won a major literary prize – which is surprising given her body of work. So perhaps 2020 might be her year? Certainly the acclaim she’s been given for Hamnet means she deserved her shortlist nomination. And whilst Weather was a thought-provoking, timely novel tackling topics that are current and urgent, the structure and characterisations could have been stronger, especially when compared to other shortlistees. A Thousand Ships was a lot of fun, at times both moving and funny. But the overload of Greek retellings from last year might hamper its chances.  Weather and A Thousand Ships are definitely great books but I’m not sure if they are prize-worthy. I’m happy they did make the shortlist though as they deserved their spots, plus it helps boost awareness and introduce new readers to these great stories.

So after some deliberation, here is my final predictions:

Who I Want to Win: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Who I Think Will Win: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

Ask me on a different day however and I would probably give you a different answer. Perhaps Evaristo will claim the prize or Mantel might swoop in and win. Could we have another Booker where two people win? There are so many strong contenders it is hard to choose a winner – a sign of a truly great shortlist. I definitely don’t envy the judges at all in trying to choose one amongst these six.

Let me know who you think or want to win the Women’s Prize this year. Also what did you made of the shortlist? This feels like one of their strongest so far.

Monthly Round-Up: August 2020

The end of another months means another monthly round-up. Below are all the books I read and reviewed in August, plus the links in case anyone wants to check them out.

Books in August 2020

As many people already know, August was Women in Translation Month and I was able to participate in the second half of the month. Reading those four books made me realise how little translated fiction I read normally, a fact which is made worse when I consider all the translated works I’ve enjoyed throughout the years. I definitely want to make that a priority next year when I set my reading goals for 2021. Certainly these past two weeks I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read, and even managed to knock a couple off my ever-growing TBR (The Women at Hitler’s Table, My Brilliant Friend). I might even have found a new series I like in the Neapolitan Novels. So all in all it was a very successful reading month.

Going into September I have two goals: to finish the Women’s Prize shortlist and hopefully make a start on the Booker Prize shortlist. I only have two novels, Hamnet and Dominicana, to read for the Women’s Prize. Given the winner is announced on 9th September I don’t think I will have completed both in time, but I will hopefully have read a decent chunk of them beforehand. With regards to the Booker Prize, I say ‘hopefully’ because I’m waiting to see who makes the shortlist, which is released 15th. There are some novels that interest me, others not at all, so I shall see when the shortlist is revealed if I want to tackle it. 

In this section of the monthly round up posts is where I discuss the newly released films I’ve watched this month. Or that’s how they started out. The last few months, due to cinemas being shut, has seen discuss what upcoming releases I’ve been excited for. Today though, I’m going to revert back to the original plan. Whilst I’ve not been to the cinema in August, I watched two films that should have been screened way back in March but instead, have been released on VOD and streaming services. So I thought I would discuss them here, as they were supposed to have had a cinema release in the UK in 2020. But without further ado, let’s dive into the films:

Films in August 2020

The Assistant (dir. Kitty Green)

The AssistantThis is a slice-of-life drama where we follow a day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent graduate and the titular assistant. She works in the office of movie mogul, and she dreams of eventually becoming a film producer herself. Yet throughout the course of the day, Jane becomes increasingly aware of the abuse her employer inflicts behind closed doors. It is hard not to draw comparisons with Harvey Weinstein whilst watching this film, and I think Green handled the disturbing theme incredibly well. The mogul in question is never seen – our only interactions are via Jane’s emails and telephone conversations with him. By having him off-screen he is a boogeyman figure – a hidden monster that lurks just behind the camera. It creates a deeply uneasy environment for the viewer, a reflection of the insidious nature of sexual assault.  Yet the most disturbing scene for me was the conversation between Jane and an HR manager played by Matthew Macfadyen. It shows how systemic the issue of abuse is, and both actors are absolutely brilliant in this scene. Whilst the slow pace and troubling subject matter will not appeal to some viewers, The Assistant is a very effective, powerful drama.

 

Radioactive (dir. Marjane Satrapi)

Radioactive filmThe plot of Radioactive is fairly straightforward – it is a biopic of Marie Curie (Rosamund Pike), beginning with her struggles to fund her research and the start of her relationship with Pierre Curie (Sam Riley), until her death in 1934. Satrapi also looks at the effects Curie’s discoveries have had on the world; everything to life-saving surgery to Hiroshima and Chernobyl. Marie Curie lived an extraordinary life and Satrapi does a serviceable job of highlighting a couple of key moments. However, it means some aspects felt rushed as so much had to be crammed into less than 2 hours, her work during World War One for example. There was always this feeling of wanting more. Though an aspect I did like was how Satrapi wove events like Chernobyl and the Manhattan Project into the narrative. For the most part those scenes flowed between one another quite naturally, and they helped to show the impact that Curie has had. I’m not convinced by how Satrapi tied all these together at the end, feeling it was a bit on the nose. Overall, Radioactive is an interesting film to sum up. It is competently made, the performances are good. There just lacked a certain depth, and I feel people who know nothing about Marie Curie will benefit from the film more as it is a good oversight.

 

And that is it for August! Let me know down below what books you’ve been reading, or if you’ve seen any good films this month!

Women in Translation Month TBR

It may be nearing the middle of August but all my books from July are now finished and reviewed which means I can start my Women in Translation TBR. There is a readathon in the last week of August (24th – 31st) with three prompts which will be really exciting; I can’t wait to see what others are reading. As per usual, I am slightly bending (not breaking) the rules, by completing the prompts outside of the readathon dates. So you’ll probably see one of them mentioned next week. But without further ado, I’ll mention the prompts and the books I’m reading for them.

1. Read a book published by an independent press

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)

My Brilliant Friend

I feel everyone has read the Neapolitan novels except myself and I plan to rectify that this year. Plus I’ve owned it for a couple of years now so it would be good to tick another book off my main TBR, and I’ve been meaning to read some of Ferrante’s work. There have been mixed reviews of this first book, but I really enjoyed the small snippet I read at the start so I’m hoping to like My Brilliant Friend.

 

 

 

 

2. Read a genre title (SFF, romance, crime, thriller, horror, etc)

The Zolas by Meliane Marcaggi (dialogue) and Alice Chemama (illustrations)

The ZolasI think (and hope) this fits the prompt – it is a graphic novel and non-fiction so I’m hoping one or both of those come under ‘genre’. This about the great French writer Emile Zola and his contemporaries in 19th century Paris. Anything to do with the French capital is an instant draw for me, and it will be interesting to dive into Zola’s life, which I admittedly know little about. The paintings by Chemama also intrigue me; I’m getting hints of Manet, a painter I really admire. It will also be my first graphic novel which is exciting.  

 

 

 

3. Read a book that was published in its original language pre-2000

The Besieged City by Clarice Lispector (translated by Johnny Lorenz)

The Besieged CityOriginally published in 1948 and only translated into English over seventy years later in 2019, Lispector’s novel seems perfect for this prompt. Our main character is Lucrecia; a vain, superficial, mute young woman whose quest for transformation mirrors the upheaval her hometown experiences. I’ve previously read Daydream and Drunkenness of a Young Lady which contained two of Lispector’s short stories and enjoyed both of them. Her writing in particular really impressed me; her imagery is incredibly evocative.

 

 

The Women at Hitler’s Table by Rosella Postorino (translated by Leah Janeczko)

The Women at Hitler's TableThis one doesn’t fit any of the prompts; it’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for a few months now and WIT month seemed like the perfect time. Set in East Prussia in 1943, the novel follows ten women who are chosen to taste Hitler’s food and protect him from being poisoned. Our main narrator is Rosa, who has lost everything during the war and is desperately attempting to survive.  World War Two and women’s history are subjects that interest me, so The Women at Hitler’s Table ticks a lot of boxes. It will also be interesting to read a different aspect to the war that I’ve never considered previously.

 

And that’s my TBR for the remainder of August! Let me know if you’re taking part in WIT month and what you’re reading!