Film Review: Dunkirk

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dunkirk-posterFilm Review: Dunkirk

Release date: 21st July 2017

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Aneurin Barnard

Runtime: 106 minutes

Genre: War, Historical

Watched in: 2D Impact

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

I was quite stunned to discover that this film was still in cinemas yesterday when a friend suggested we watch a flick. Almost seven weeks since its release date, Dunkirk was not only still on with multiple screenings per day, it was still showing in Empire’s biggest screen at my local cinema – the Impact screen. It was my first time in the big Impact showing, and the screen was absolutely massive, covering the entirety of the front wall of the room. The sound was bogglingly loud, much louder than a normal screen, and unfortunately I’m not good with loud, so the sharp racket of gunfire and bass heavy soundtrack wasn’t enjoyable for me and did spoil the experience a bit. The film itself was great, and I would gladly see it again (in a quieter, though unfortunately smaller, screen or at home where I can change the volume).

The name of the film says it all. It follows the events of the evacuation Dunkirk during the Second World War. While it was a mark of a military defeat, the evacuation of thousands of soldiers was a victory. The film follows several characters closely – a group on the beach trying to get on a ship to take them home, fighter pilots in the air, and the civilian boats coming to rescue the stranded soldiers.

It was in some ways a very strange film. There was no context and no set up. It starts at Dunkirk. Most of the characters the film follows are unnamed, and nothing is known about them. I think this was probably a deliberate artistic choice, which was interesting and different from the norm for historical films. However, it also made me feel disconnected from the characters.

The filming was spectacular. They used minimal CGI, filming on location at Dunkirk beach and with real planes and ships. It was refreshing to know that what I was seeing was mostly real, as so often these days filmmakers rely on CGI when some of what they are filming could be done without it.

At times the story wasn’t shown in chronological order. When I first realised this, when it was switching between scenes at night on the beach, and in the day in the channel, I was a little disorientated. Once I’d realised that was what had been done, it was very clever how the scenes were shown in a way that wasn’t too hard to follow (though I lost sense of what was happening in a couple of places). The pace makes the film quite intense all of the way through, with little let up for slow paced scenes which films usually have. In a way, this is reflective of what war and battle is like.

I haven’t watched many war films. It’s not usually a genre I would go for. The only other one I can think of I have watched is Pearl Harbour, which is rather cheesy and dramatic. It was therefore quite a relief to find that Dunkirk was grittier and real, not Hollywood-ised in the way films so often are. It’s an ambitious film that somehow manages to make a war film seem more like an art film than an action movie, but with the intensity and tension of one.

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Book Review: The Hollow by Agatha Christie

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2da87b54f6f4af60e4d249408b40948d-agatha-christieThe Hollow by Agatha Christie

Genre: Detective Fiction

Publishing Info: from the Agatha Christie Collection, Planet Three Publishing (first published 1946)

Pages: 252

Star Rating: 4/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

When socialite Lucy Angkatell organises a weekend’s entertainment at her English country house, The Hollow, it seems she has thought of everything: the capable butler, the requisite number of kitchen maids – in fact, the only thing she seems to have overlooked is the fact that most of her guests hate each other.

A far-from-warm welcome greets Hercule Poirot as he arrives for lunch. Instead, a man lies dying by the swimming pool, as a gun sinks slowly to the bottom..

 

Having only read one other Agatha Christie novel – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – I have little to compare The Hollow to. While The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was written in a first person unreliable narrator style with a focus on the solving of the crime, The Hollow has quite a different focus. The murder – and Poirot – do not appear until a third of the way through the book, with the earlier chapters exploring the characters who will fall under suspicion.

Set in a country house with a host of guests, I was expecting a formulaic mystery. What I got was an exploration into the impact of murder on a group of people. Poirot features very little in the book. The focus is very much on the guests of the weekend country get away, their relationships with each other, and their reactions to murder. Since Christie spent time letting the reader get to know the characters, I cared more about them when murder came into the equation. Having more understanding of the victim and suspects’ characters meant I felt more engaged with the story.

Despite the focus on character, rather than mystery solving, I was still glued to the pages, eager to reach the end and find the solution to the murder. Satisfyingly, it wasn’t a predictable ending, and I hadn’t worked out the ‘whodunit’.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is one of Christie’s earliest published novels, with The Hollow published twenty years later. A development in her writing is evident. I found the writing in Roger Ackroyd rather simplistic, more so than I had been expecting. It was a pleasant surprise to find a much more mature and sophisticated style of writing in The Hollow.

Reading this book has made me curious to read more of Christie’s work. I hadn’t heard of The Hollow until I found it in a second hand book shop. I think it is therefore quite under-rated. It is a very interesting character study, whilst still being a highly satisfactory murder mystery tale.

The 13th Doctor – Unlucky 13? Or Revival?

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The announcement of the next actor to play the Doctor is always eagerly anticipated by fans. It is also always analysed in the aftermath, with some full of excitement, while there will always be some who are critical or sceptical. The announcement of the thirteenth Doctor was bound to catch a lot of attention. With Steven Moffat leaving the show – to be replaced by Chris Chibnall – and a new doctor, the next series could provide the opportunity to revitalise the show. That meant a lot was riding on the casting of the thirteenth Doctor.

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I, like many, felt the show begun to go downhill when Steven Moffat became the show’s head writer. Undoubtedly, he has written some amazing episodes for the Doctor Who. The Matt Smith years were enjoyable, though bogged down by some complicated series plot arcs. Peter Capaldi made an excellent doctor, but wasn’t always given the best opportunity to shine, and didn’t gel well with Jenna Coleman. The introduction of Bill provided a spark. A plucky and entertaining companion, combined with some excellent writing, made the latest series a dramatic improvement on the previous couple. Yet, it still felt like the show could be better.

There were many a suggestion – and some not very subtle hints in the latest series’ dialogue – that the next doctor would be a woman. When the announcement trailer aired (ironically, after the men’s Wimbledon final, which is arguably always promoted and hailed more than the women’s final), and the hood was pulled down to reveal the thirteenth doctor as Jodie Whittaker, the internet exploded with a mixture of reactions. From elation, to horror, to deflation, the public gave their judgement through social media. Some said it would stop them watching the show, that Doctor Who was dead to them. This, I felt, was quite an unfair pronouncement. Can’t they at least watch one episode and then pass judgement? Many felt it was about time a woman was cast. Many praised the casting of a woman in the role for the first time as a win for equality.

The headlines – the thirteenth Doctor a woman. This is why there is no victory. The headlines were not – Jodie Whittaker cast as the next Doctor. The emphasis was placed on the fact a woman had been cast. All this does, is highlight that feminism is not finished. Women have far more rights and face less prejudices than they did a hundred years ago. But we are not equal. The Doctor is a regenerating alien and, as seen through the regeneration of the Master into a woman, can change gender as much a matter of course as changing height, or hair colour, or eye colour. The casting of a woman is, to me, undoubtedly a good thing. The issue is that Jodie Whittaker’s credentials as an actor are overshadowed by her gender in the media.

With multiple big changes happening to Doctor Who, the next series could either mark the revitalisation or demise of the show. If throughout the series it is constantly referred to how the Doctor is now a woman, it could be a disaster. It could be like having political correctness shoved down our throats. If it is treated like a normal regeneration (albeit of course with some reference to the change of gender, it is bound to be a surprise to the Doctor!) with another great actor taking the reins, then it could be a great move. Having enjoyed Broadchurch – both Chibnall’s story and Whittaker’s acting – I have hopes for the next series. Let’s hope the number 13 revives the show, and doesn’t cause its demise.

Book Review: The Kill Order by James Dashner

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9781909489431The Kill Order by James Dashner

Genre: Young Adult, Post-Apocalyptic

Publishing Info: 2013 by Chicken House (first published 2012)

Pages: 331

Star Rating: 2/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Sun flares have unleashed devastation on the earth. Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and against the odds they survived.

But now a violent and high contagious disease is spreading like wildfire. Worse still, it’s mutating, and people are going crazy. Mark and Trina will do anything to save their friends – if only they can avoid madness and stay alive…

 

The opening few chapters got my interest, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to keep reading to find out why the virus was happening. The opening action sequence was exciting and gave me high hopes for the rest of the book. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue as well as it started.

The plot is vague. It just didn’t really go anywhere. Despite the constant action, I lost interest because there wasn’t anything else to keep me engaged. There was a lot of action, maybe too much. The action scenes become quite repetitive. Some of them were hard to follow. There was a scene at some kind of base, where I just couldn’t visualise the awkward attempts at describing the characters’ surroundings and spent a few chapters feeling confused because I couldn’t visualise what the characters were doing. In a couple of places, Dashner made the odds the characters had to face (e.g. the number of enemies in a fight) so difficult that it seemed unrealistic for them to get out of those situations.

The fast pace also meant there was little time to develop characters. As with the Maze Runner trilogy, most of the characters were bland, and the book lacked any kind of character arcs. Only Alec’s personality came through, but only through repetitive emphasis on his characteristics.

I wasn’t keen on the flashbacks, but that may have been to do with the way they are written. The narrative switches to present tense for the flashbacks. Dashner’s writing seems to read even worse in present tense than it does in past tense. His writing is simple, which I didn’t have too much issue with in the other books, but for some reason in this one it’s very clunky. I also felt the dream flashbacks didn’t add anything that couldn’t have been conveyed in other ways, such as through Mark’s thoughts.

There is a strange prologue and epilogue with Teresa and Thomas which doesn’t connect much with the main story. I wasn’t sure why Dashner wrote this book. It showed more about how the virus broke out, which was interesting, but beyond that I didn’t see the point. If I hadn’t previously read books by the same author, I likely would have given up on it, but as I enjoyed The Maze Runner, I thought I would give it a chance and read to the end.

After finishing the book, I did an internet search to find out how the book connects with the main series. I felt there must have been a bigger connection. It turns out one of the characters from The Maze Runner is in The Kill Order. Was I supposed to remember one tiny bit of dialogue from the main trilogy? I don’t even remember reading the bit of information that shows the connection to the character. Maybe I missed something totally obvious, and I’m the odd one out. There was nothing in The Kill Order to suggest one of the characters was one from the main trilogy. I think there is too much reliance on memory of a small detail included in the other books. If I had to do an internet search to understand what I was reading, then it was too subtle.

I would have enjoyed the book more if I’d realised the big connection to the Maze Runner trilogy. However, the book and characters should have been able to stand on their own without reliance on the connection to the main series. The fact that only understanding the connection to the Maze Runner trilogy character would have made me care about the characters and plot, just highlights how flawed The Kill Order is.

Book reviews of the trilogy:

The Maze Runner

The Scorch Trials 

The Death Cure

Top 5 Wednesday: Book Covers You’d Live In

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This week’s T5W is the top 5 book covers I would want to live in. There are so many amazingly designed book covers out there, it was hard to choose! T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.

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1) The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The design of this particular edition really caught my eye, so it is the edition I own. With the mountains and the trees, I would love to live there. Plus, Hobbiton always seems like such a friendly, fun place.

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2) Under the Trees by Ashley Maker

The bright green colours in this cover make the forest look really enchanting. I do love a good wood. I’m always taking photographs of trees.

HARRY POTTER LATEST BOOK COVERS

3) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

With Hogwarts in the background of this cover, how could it not make the list? I expect this one needs no explaining.

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4) Dragonfly by Julia Golding

The colours on this cover are so striking, and when I read the book I imagined it being a really beautiful place.

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5) Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas 

I haven’t read the book yet. The design of this cover is really creative, and the scene depicted drew me in. (disclaimer: the glow in the dark cover did not influence the purchase of this book…nope…not at all…)

Best Books of the Year (so far)

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As we are now just over half way through 2017, I decided to post a list of the best books I have read so far this year. I have reread some books – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the Hunger Games trilogy – but this list will feature books I have read for the first time.

cover93280-mediumReplica by Lauren Oliver

I rarely buy hardback books – they’re too expensive and heavy. However, I just could not wait for the paperback of Replica to come out. The idea of the story being told from two points of view, and flipping the book over the read the second half of the story, just seemed so cool. I was curious to see whether Lauren Oliver could pull it off, and desperately hoped I wouldn’t be disappointed. I was not, and it is one of my favourite books I have read this year. Without the two ‘stories’ in one, would the actual plot of the book hold its own? I’m not sure, but I speak-laurie-halse-andersondefinitely enjoyed it in this form, and the two points of view weren’t gimmicky like I had feared. I eagerly await the next book in the series, and hope it lives up to the first one.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This is the first novel I have read by Laurie Halse Anderson, and will forever be one of my favourite books. It doesn’t shy away from the difficult topics it deals with. The poetic writing style and imagery is stunning. The metaphors woven into the book are really effective. I felt totally pulled into the story.

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson  51k75eaduxl

With Wintergirls, Laurie Halse Anderson once again writes about mental health. I found the writing as engaging as that of Speak, and although this is also one of my favourite books, it didn’t bowl me over in the same way as Speak. I didn’t know much about eating disorders before reading this book, and I found it enlightening to read about what it can be like to experience it.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Having seen and enjoyed the film when it came ender-movieout, I wanted to read the book. The characters are aged up somewhat for the film, so the beginning of the book is even more shocking consider the child characters are so young. Ender is only six when he is sent to Battle School to begin his training. Some parts of the book were slow, but on the whole it kept me reading, with a satisfying twist at the end.

7095108Crank by Ellen Hopkins

This is the second book I have read by Ellen Hopkins, and only the second verse novel I have read. The book tells the story of a girl who becomes a drug addict. This is another one with tough subject matter! What I liked about the book is how Hopkins utilises the verse form to reflect the narrator’s addiction and mental state. I found it highly effective.

These are the best books I have read so far this year. I wonder what my favourites will be at the end of 2017!

Top 5 Wednesday: Children’s Books

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This is my first time participating in Top 5 Wednesday, a group hosted on Goodreads. This week the topic is children’s books! This one is actually harder than I was expecting, as I realised I couldn’t remember many books from my childhood (besides the obvious – Harry Potter!).

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1) The Fire Within (The Last Dragon Chronicles) by Chris d’Lacey

For a long time I have loved dragons (and probably will do forever). The first book in this series is children’s fiction, but the rest of the series is probably on the middle grade and young adult borderline. I loved the idea of clay dragons coming to life. I actually never finished the series as I haven’t read the last two books. That is rather remiss of me and writing this blog post has made me rather eager to finally finish the series!

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2) Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

When I read this in primary school, I remember the story really sticking with me. It was different to the sort of books I would normally read. I also remember it being quite a sad and heartbreaking book. At the time, we were studying World War I and the book (although fictional, of course) brought the topic to life.

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3) Geronimo Stilton series by Geronimo Stilton

These books always brought a smile to my face. With fun adventures (and colourful pictures!) they were always an exciting and entertaining read. After looking it up on Goodreads, I’ve discovered there are now 64 books in the series! That is a mammoth amount! I only read a few when I was younger. I seem to remember Cat and Mouse in a Haunted House being one of my favourites.

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4) The Lady Grace Mysteries by Grace Cavendish

I have always been interested in history, and went through a particular phase of being obsessed with it. I was also obsessed with this book series, and was continuously loaning them from the library. The books follow Lady Grace, who is a lady in waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and solves mysteries – that is a hook and a half for sure. Combining my love of history and a good mystery, this series was perfect to keep me entertained.

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5) The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

How could The Hobbit not make the list? I had this book read to me as a child, and it probably contributed to my love of fantasy. I went on to read The Lord of the Rings when I was 12, and that series has stuck with me more, probably because I was a bit older. Tolkien’s world is so detailed and vivid. The Hobbit is another one that I am eager to reread.

What books do you remember loving from your childhood? Or are there any you have read more recently? If you’d like to participate check out the group on Goodreads.

Film Review: Wonder Woman

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wonder-woman-final-posterFilm Review: Wonder Woman

Release date: 1st June 2017

Director: Patty Jenkins

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright

Runtime: 141 minutes

Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Historical

Watched in: 2D

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Prior to its release, Wonder Woman was a highly anticipated female-led and female-directed superhero movie. I had my doubts, since films don’t often live up to their hype. Man of Steel, which I liked, is the only other DC film I’ve seen, and since many of their films have flopped and had negative reviews, I was a little apprehensive. In this case, I was thrilled it met expectations.

Wonder Woman follows Diana of the Amazons, who chooses to leave her paradise home and join the war to end all wars when an American pilot (played by Chris Pine) crashes on the island. I knew nothing about the Wonder Woman comics before I saw the film and didn’t realise the background to the character is of Ancient Greek mythology. As mythology has always been an interest of mine this was a pleasant surprise.

Gal Gadot does an excellent job of playing Diana, and it’s refreshing to see a new face playing a lead superhero role. The other cast members also played their characters well and side characters had personalities rather than being cardboard two-dimensional afterthoughts. There are some good touches of humour throughout which also adds to the likeability of the characters.

The cinematography is stunning. All of the fight sequences were well thought out and choreographed. As I watched, I couldn’t help but marvel at the stunning way these sequences had been filmed, capturing such detail in fast paced action scenes. At the climax, the film took a different direction than I was expecting, with a twist that I didn’t see coming and which made for a thrilling final conflict. It did slide into clichéd sentiments towards the end, but it didn’t prevent the ending from being satisfying. The film was perhaps a little too long, with small scenes that could have been cut down a little to give a better flow to the movie.

Book Review: Soulmates by Holly Bourne

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16099393Soulmates by Holly Bourne

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Publishing Info: 2013 by Usbourne (kindle edition)

Pages: 548

Star Rating: 3/5

 

Back Cover Summary:

Every so often, two people are born who are the perfect match for each other. Soulmates. But while the odds of this happening are about as likely as being struck by lightning, when these people do meet and fall in love, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and lashings of rain are only the beginning of their problems. After a chance meeting at a local band night, Poppy and Noah find themselves swept up in a whirlwind romance unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. But with a secret international agency preparing to separate them and a trail of destruction rumbling in their wake, they are left with an impossible choice between the end of the world, or a life without love…

 

This book takes the popular cliché of soulmates and puts an interesting spin on it. It was interesting to see a different side to the idea, but although the concept was good, the story was a little weak. One thing I did like was that it was set in the UK, as most YA books are set in the US. This made a nice change for me since I’m from the UK.

It was very slow in places and fairly predictable. There were points where I found myself getting bored but decided to persist to find out what would happen in the end. Some scenes dragged too much. A lot of the book was orientated towards building the characters and showing their relationships to each other, which was done well, but there was just too much of it. The characters were likeable and well rounded, but the lack of plot and conflict dragged the book down.

The last quarter picked up the pace but then it lost me again with such long explanations about the science behind soulmates. It wasn’t that it was overly scientific, Bourne did a good job of explaining it, but it was just too drawn out for me and my interest dwindled. The emotions were written very well in the last section of the book, and it was heart wrenching to read at times. The ending was one of the strongest parts for me. It didn’t fall into the formula of typical endings and provided a sad, but more realistic, ending than many books.

I didn’t hate it, but it’s just one of those books that isn’t very memorable.