Thursday, 31 January 2013

DJANGO UNCHAINED

I know, I know, I'm a bit late to the party with this one (not as late as I am to the Argo party, since I'm not seeing that until Friday) but whatever. I liked this film. I didn't love it and I didn't like all of it, but overall I liked it.

The story was strong, the script was excellent and there wasn't a weak link in the acting. I mean, it's no Reservoir Dogs, but it runs rings around Pulp Fiction. And it's funny. Very funny. I know that's a hotly contested comment, with allegations of racism surrounding this film since before it even appeared in cinemas, but I think it was funny. I saw an article that listed the ten most offensive moments in Django, and I disagreed with most of their choices. The language used seems to be a particular issue. Now, I have issues with language myself, I don't understand why some swear-words are considered worse than others, I don't understand why it's okay for a black person to use the n-word but then get offended if a white person does. (I understand why it's an offensive word, I just think if it is that offensive then nobody should be using it, regardless of skin colour) but I didn't object to the language used in this film one bit. Because it was right to use such words, because such words were used at the time the film is set. Tarantino is striving for authenticity (the same thing that led him to actually strangle Diane Krueger in Inglourious Basterds) and he's achieved it. By sanitising the language, he would have undermined everything this film is about, everything that people like Django suffered. And that would have been wrong.

You know, I told myself I wasn't going to comment on that before I sat down to write this review, telling myself that the controversy surrounding the film was basically irrelevant to the film itself, but maybe it is more important than I thought. All I really want to say is that I enjoyed this film, I thought it was a good film and I wasn't in the least bit offended by it. And I don't really see how anyone could be genuinely offended by it.



Wednesday, 30 January 2013

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love--all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may be telling you only half the story. 

Welcome to Christine's life.



First of all, I'd like to clarify something. On the back of my copy of this book, there's a comment that refers to it as a crime thriller. I think it even won an award for being the best crime thriller of the year or something along those lines, but I'd ignore that. I don't think you can call it a crime thriller, not really, and if you go in thinking that it is one, your mind will most likely stroll down very specific avenues and you'll ultimately be disappointed when you find out what's really going on because you were imagining something much more interesting. That's not to say the ending isn't interesting, just that you might have had something better in mind.

I'm finding it hard to review this book, and even talk about it with people who've read it, because I didn't really enjoy reading it. What I did enjoy, however, was thinking about it. I enjoyed coming up with theories about what I thought was happening, I enjoyed bouncing those theories off people who had already read it. But as far as the actual reading of the actual words went, I didn't find any real enjoyment there. I found it dense and repetitive and really just not very engaging.

Given other people's responses to this book, I have to assume that there wasn't anything wrong with the book itself. That it just wasn't for me, which is a shame, because I kind of enjoyed the experience of the book, even though I didn't actually enjoy the book.



Monday, 21 January 2013

DAMNED

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

Thirteen-year-old Madison Spencer finds herself in hell after her first experience with marijuana. Once there, she has to find her place and start living the life she never had a chance to live while alive.

I am a Chuck Palahniuk fan. I will buy a book simply because it has his name on it - well, except for Pygmy, which I tried to read and got a headache. My favourite of his books is Invisible Monsters, and my least favourite is probably Tell-All, the one that came before Damned. Now I have a new least favourite, and it's this one.

That might be unfair of me. My main issue with this book is how long it took to get to any kind of story. We're talking 100 pages of inconsequential events, 100 pages of utter nonsense, before the actual story starts. And it isn't a long book, so this poor non-story part accounts for a good half of the writing.

One thing I think Palahniuk does really well is create interesting characters, characters who are something different to what we are used to reading about. Madison, I thought, is severely lacking. In fact, she's a bit dull, as well as irritating. I think the irritating part is deliberate, but I found her so thoroughly uninteresting that it was hard to plough through this short novel. Also, while we're on the subject of Madison, she spends a lot of time showing off her vocabulary and criticising the reader for being surprised she knows such words. Except, I wasn't surprised that she knew them. They were words I would expect a lot of thirteen-year-old girls to know, especially those who had received expensive private educations. In fact, part of me found it a bit insulting, since I knew a lot of those words when I myself was thirteen.

Once the story does pick up, it's quite interesting for a while. There's a twist that anyone who has read more than four books in their life will see coming a mile off - I don't think it deserves the name of twist, but I'm pretty sure that's what it was intended to be - and the ending is a bit of a hash, because this is the first book that Palahniuk has ever written a sequel to (as far as I know). All in all, I don't think I would recommend this book, mostly because fans of Palahniuk will read it regardless, and people who aren't fans could pick any other of his books and find a better story.



Friday, 18 January 2013

The Importance of Matching Book Covers

So, since I'm stuck inside waiting for the phone to ring and work to tell me that the roads are far too treacherous and I shouldn't even attempt to make the journey in, I thought I'd write a little blog post about something I hate even more than snow.

Now, call me crazy or anal or whatever, but I like series of books to have the same covers. To match. It makes them look good on my shelf and it makes me happy. The Harry Potter books are a good example (for most people, not for me because even though mine match, they're actually in a box on top of the bookshelf rather than out on display. Also, books in boxes, a good idea with a fatal flaw that I'll save for discussion in another post.) But the books, despite being released over a period of ten years, all had matching covers, both the original children's ones and the later adult ones. This is good.

This week, the third book in the Immortal Beloved series by Cate Tiernan was released. I was given the first two books as a Christmas present and, though I haven't read them yet, I decided to buy the third one anyway, so I could read them all together as a series. Except I've hit a snag. These are the quite beautiful covers that I already have:

 

Pretty, right? And they were only released in this design last year - I believe it was January 2012. So, here we are just a year after these books were released and the third instalment is in shops. Want to see the cover? I'm sure it'll match these ones. They won't have done a completely different cover for the last book, that would be ridiculous.


Oh, wait. See, now I have a dilemma. Do I wait and see if the pretty covers (because let's face it, the first two are much prettier than this new one) get a matching partner, or do I just bite the bullet and buy this one and try not to let it bother me too much? Because it does bother me. I know that's my problem and not the publishers' (though if I don't buy it, then I suppose I'll make it their problem, because obviously losing one book sale is a huge drama for them) but I can't understand why publishers keep doing this during the publication of series. My Sookie Stackhouse books don't match, I have three different cover styles at least. My Anita Blake books don't match, I've got two or three types of those (two styles, but one of the styles I have in paperback and hardback, which bothers me just as much). My Mortal Instruments books don't match because the people in Waterstones lied to me about the release date of the paperback (I have the first four in paperback and the fifth also in paperback but it's a lot taller and a different shape, but the one that would match was due to be released just two days after I bought the non-matching one.)

It drives me crazy. And I'd like it stop now. I'd also like to know I'm not the only person that this bothers, because it can't just be me. I refuse to believe it's just me.



Wednesday, 16 January 2013

LES MISÉRABLES

Okay, so the plan for today's blog was to review Les Misérables, which I went to see last night. The thing is, I don't think I can review it fairly, given that going to see it was in fact a pretty miserable experience. See what I did there?

Sorry, I'll stop.

I have a low tolerance for other people generally, but it's at its worst in the cinema. And last night was appalling. If you are not capable of sitting and watching a film without talking or checking your phone, you need to stay at home and wait for the DVD. You need to not disturb people who actually can watch films like grown ups and have paid £10 each for the privilege. In the first ten-fifteen minutes, we had to tell two separate groups of people to stop talking. We were close to going out and getting a member of staff (which we hate doing because then we're the ones that miss the film and usually it makes no bloody difference anyway because they like to avoid removing people from the cinema). It was also absolutely freezing in the room where we saw it. So I spent the first thirty or forty minutes feeling utterly stressed and unable to get into the film, which is a shame, because what I saw of it, I really enjoyed. Honestly, I thought the first half of the film was excellent.

The second half, less so. Which is not the fault of the film at all. I have this little issue, one which I've had for as long as I can remember, and it's that war bores me deeply. Seriously, just hearing the word war makes parts of my brain switch off. I hadn't fully twigged the fact that this film is set during the French Revolution. Which is a war. So really, it's my own fault I didn't enjoy the second half - seriously, it's a huge problem. Hugh Jackman was on screen and I was bored - but I can't help thinking that I might have enjoyed it more if I'd been more engaged in the film, which I wasn't because of the other people in the audience. I didn't get emotional at the end because the film had lost me by that point. And partly because I really needed to go to the toilets - it feels like a very long film.

But some positives. In my opinion, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen stole the show. Hugh Jackman was predictably good and Russell Crowe was surprisingly so. I still can't stand Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried, though I can admit that they did a good job here. The kids in it were very good, too. There was really only one scene where I was distracted because I recognised it as Winchester (where I went to uni and saw a bit of the movie actually being filmed) although I'm pretty sure the bit I did see filmed didn't make the final cut. Overall, I probably would recommend it, though Vue are going to be getting a snotty email from me.



Monday, 14 January 2013

GANGSTER SQUAD

Last night, I went to see Gangster Squad, a film which is, unsurprisingly, about gangsters. Essentially, mobster Mickey Cohen is taking over 1920s Los Angeles and Josh Brolin and his band of misfit straight cops are to take him down off the books. It's got a good cast, including Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Anthony Mackie, and it really wasn't too bad.

In fact, I only had one issue with it. Now I have two, because one occurred to me just a minute ago, but immediately after viewing the film, it was just one. Sean Penn as the bad guy. Now, I haven't seen much of Penn's work, but I'm led to believe he's an incredible actor. I think he was the only weak link in this film. Maybe it was just how he chose to play the character (or how someone else wanted him to play it) but he's just ridiculous. The film had a surprising amount of humour, but he was so over the top that every scene with him made me cringe a little.

The other problem, the one that just occurred to me, is more of a plot thing which there was probably an explanation for in the book (it's based on a novel of the same name by Paul Lieberman) but got glossed over in the film. Why don't the mob guys recognise the cops that are trying to take them down? I got the impression that actually, Los Angeles was quite a small town and everyone knew someone who knew someone else. Thinking back, it seems ludicrous that they managed to operate under the radar, and it was never mentioned what the other cops thought they were up to when they were off doing secret work. Hm. I may have to read the book and see how this is dealt with there.

But yeah, other than that, I enjoyed the film. Emma Stone continues her streak of being utterly wonderful, and Ryan Gosling was very good as well. I could actually understand every word he said in this film without the aid of subtitles, which made a nice change. I'm not really familiar with Josh Brolin's body of work either, but I thought he was good, too.

I wasn't planning to mention the rewriting and reshooting that took place after the Aurora tragedy - for those of you who somehow missed it, a crucial scene involving gangsters shooting through the screen at a cinema audience was cut after a some guy opened fire on cinema-goers - but I feel it is worth a mention. I genuinely have no idea where that scene was supposed to be in the movie or what was changed to accommodate its removal, which I'm actually very pleased about. I was concerned that the film would suffer as a result of last-minute changes, but it wasn't. I saw an interview with the director where he said he thought the film was actually better, and though I obviously can't speak to that, I can say that the resulting film is seamless. Except for the plot issue I mentioned above.



Sunday, 13 January 2013

BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS/BEAUTIFUL CHAOS

Beautiful Darkness/Beautiful Chaos by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
So, these two books are the next instalments in the Caster Chronicles series (a stupid title for a series if you ask me, but nobody did) even though I don't usually review sequels on the blog. Because if you haven't read the first book, you won't be interested, and if you have read the first book, you'll either read or not read the sequels based on whether you enjoyed them or not, rather than on my opinion. You can find my review of the first instalment, Beautiful Creatures (soon to be a film), here: http://liesandothernonsense.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/beautiful-creatures.html 

So, book two, Beautiful Darkness, got off to a bad start, in my opinion. My main problem with book one was the last hundred pages. Here, the problem was the first hundred. There was a lot of moping around and generally being worried about stuff that turned out not to be all that important in the grand scheme of things. I would have chopped out the first ten or so chapters and started there, because, after that point, it actually became quite an interesting read. Sure, a huge part of the plot was tackling the same issue as in the first book because of the crappy ending, but there was enough other stuff going on in order to sustain it. I enjoyed it, overall, possibly because this one seemed to feature a lot more Ridley, who is my favourite character in the whole series. I can finally see why Emmy Rossum signed on to play her in the film version - she knew what was coming!

I'm starting to notice a pattern with these books, though. In Beautiful Chaos, book three, there is once again around one hundred pages that could be completely lost and the book wouldn't suffer one bit for it. This time, however, these pages appear in the middle of the book. You know how sometimes you're reading a book and you've figured out, say, 90% of what's going on and what the clues are adding up to and how it's all going to have to end? And you know how often when that happens, the characters - who inhabit and should know this world intimately, its rules and its history and all kinds of information that you as a reader simply don't have access to - only know about 20% of what you know. I hate that. Seriously, it bugs the hell out of me, and there was a good hundred pages of that here. Other than that, though, I think this might actually be the best of the books. The ending was infuriating once again, but in a completely different way. I could see it coming a while before it did because I realised we were rapidly running out of pages, but I still felt like I'd come apart when it did end. I now have to wait at least three days for the fourth book to arrive and I'm not sure how I'm going to manage that. My advice, buy the two at the same time but don't read the back of book four. I'm not sure if it'll actually have any spoilers on it, but just don't read it. Have it ready to go as soon as you've finished Beautiful Chaos. You'll thank me. And kudos to anyone who had to wait for it to actually be published. You have at least sixty per cent of my respect. That doesn't sound like much, but I rarely go above thirty!



Saturday, 12 January 2013

The Big Twist Ending

Dear film trailers, critics, bloggers, everyone,

Please stop telling me that a film has a big twist in it. Or even a small twist. Do not mention the twist. Twists are supposed to surprise the audience. If I know it's there, I'll look for it and won't enjoy the film whether I work it out beforehand or not. I'll be distracted and I will not enjoy the film. I cannot be the only one. So please, stop it. Now.

Thanks in advance,
Lesley



Tuesday, 8 January 2013

BEAUTIFUL CREATURES

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

In Ethan Wate's hometown there lies the darkest of secret. There is a girl. Lena Duchannes. There is a curse. On the sixteenth moon, of the sixteenth year, the Book will take what it's been promised. And no one can stop it. In the end, there is a grace. Lena and Ethan become bound together by a deep, powerful love. But Lena is cursed and, on her sixteenth birthday, her fate will be decided. Ethan never even saw it coming.

You might have heard something about this book, it's been around for a few years and there's a film adaptation coming out next month. I've been circling it for months, picking it up in bookshops and then putting it down again, but when I was given it for Christmas, I finally got around to reading it.

It's not bad. That sounds bad, but it's okay. I found it reminded me very strongly of Twilight, even though the genders of the main characters are reversed. It's better written than Twilight, but I'm not sure the characters are as engaging. It's lacking something, but I can't say exactly what it is because I don't know. I can't put my finger on what keeps this from being a good book.

There are obvious problems - Lena doesn't ask enough questions or believes the fudged answers too readily, there are a lot of characters all fighting for a chance to speak and they all seem a bit shallow because there just isn't enough time to build them all properly, if you have to explain how everything's pronounced then you're spelling it wrong, and the ending's pretty crap. The latter was the biggest issue for me, even though I understood it. They wanted to write sequels, they had to make space for them. It just means that the climax that the whole book was building to just didn't happen. Kind of like in Breaking Dawn.

What I did like about this book, though, was the fact that it's told from Ethan's perspective. I read a lot of YA fiction, and it seems to be very much dominated by female voices. Maybe that's just the books that I read, but it was refreshing to read a male voice, and it's not a bad one either. Ethan's a little whiny for my taste, but it was something different and I liked that.

Despite my criticisms, I am reading the second book now and I still intend to see the film version. It's just a shame this book wasn't as good as I wanted it to be, but then again, I've heard I have very high expectations.



Thursday, 3 January 2013

2013

Happy New Year!

Okay, so it's a couple days late, but I wasn't going to post anything New-Years-y at all, so whatever. No, really what I wanted to write a little bit about is New Year's Resolutions. I don't, as a rule, set resolutions at any time of the year. Except late on Sunday nights about how I'm going to do some exercise on a Monday, but that doesn't count because I have literally never remembered it the next morning.

Anyway, I don't do resolutions. Thing is, this year, I've set myself a goal. And now I'm not sure about it. On the 1st January, I stumbled onto Goodreads to check something and saw their challenge - basically, you set a number of books that you'd like to read this year. So, I counted up and, in 2012, I read 60 books. Not including the one I'm currently reading. I thought about this for all of...I don't know, four seconds? And then picked 75 as my target for 2013.

Then I thought about it some more. I don't think setting a reading goal is right for everyone, though I've seen a lot of blog posts just recently about how good it is, especially for writers. The thing is, I read quite a lot anyway. 60 books in 52 weeks is pretty good if you ask me. Would I like to read more? Read as much as I possibly can? Sure, but reading more books this year strikes me as something that means I have to read quicker. I want to enjoy the books I read, not constantly be thinking about how many pages a night I need to be ploughing through to make my target.

So, really, I guess what I'm trying to say here is that setting a reading goal is great if you don't read very much. You know, those people who say they wish they had time to read? If you want to read more, make the time to read it. A goal would be great for that. But for me, someone who makes a point to read at least a couple of chapters every day, maybe it doesn't make sense.

What about you? Are you setting a reading goal for this year? The whole idea has intrigued me now.