Film Review: Catching Fire

Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games sees our protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) struggling to cope with life after the games. With threats from President Snow looming over her, she has to find a way to keep her family and friends safe. It’s difficult to keep the President happy though, when the other districts have made Katniss into a symbol for rebellion against the Capitol. Katniss finds herself as the unwitting catalyst for a full scale uprising.

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Book Review: The Silver Star by Jeanette Walls

Set in the 1970s, The Silver Star is about two sisters whose mother’s nomadic lifestyle forces them to seek help from their Uncle in a small town called Byler in West Virginia. Somehow the book manages to deal with powerful themes and content while also retaining a quietness to it which might be down to Jeanette Walls’ writing style.

The events of the book are seen through Jean “Bean” Holladay, a twelve year old girl surrounded by adults who are unreliable and who abuse their power. Jeanette Walls has created an incredibly believable viewpoint. Reading this was like seeing through twelve year old eyes again; there is a sense of childlike innocence while also discovering that the world isn’t always good.

“We were living in a place where the guilty were innocent and the innocent were guilty. I didn’t know what to do. How were you supposed to behave in a world like that?”

It’s about discovering the injustice of the world for the first time and the ways in which different people deal with that.

The first half of the book details the girls’ journey to Byler and shows the relationship between the two sisters and their mother which they call “the tribe of three.” From the beginning it’s clear that they’re close but that they have problems – Charlotte Holladay often leaves her two girls, Liz and Bean alone while she chases her dreams of becoming a famous singer, often entertaining unrealistic ideas. Liz and Bean are incredibly close as a result of having to take care of each other from a young age. It made me extremely happy to see such a loving sisterly relationship in which it’s clear that they would both do anything to make the other happy and safe.

Around the halfway mark is when the tension starts to really build. After this point everything becomes very unsettling and disturbing. The sense of foreboding is almost painful. I had to keep taking pauses because I was so anxious for the characters during the events leading up to the climax. One of the most disturbing things about this book was how, even though it is set forty years ago, the many issues raised are still sadly just as relevant today.

In a town where the adults are either too scared to speak up, scared of change, or abusive of their powers, it takes Bean to stand up against the injustices done to her and her sister. She isn’t going to back down without a fight and she definitely isn’t going to turn a blind eye because “what would be crazy would be to pretend nothing happened.” She sets off a sort of chain of events throughout the community with her actions and by the end of the book there’s a sense that things are starting to change for the better. It’s the same idea as the boy who spoke the truth in the classic tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

It’s full of heart wrenching moments counterbalanced with the uplifting and sprinkled with beautiful language (specifically from Bean’s sister, Liz, who has a fixation with words). This story will be one of those that stays with me, always in the back of my mind for months, maybe years to come.

One of the many things I’m taking away from this book:

“Don’t apologize for who you are [...] and don’t ever be afraid to tell the truth.”

Rating: ✰✰✰✰✰

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Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle was a best seller and it’s something I’m definitely going to check out. But if reading The Silver Star hadn’t been enough persuasion to read more of Jeanette Walls’ books, The Glass Castle is going to be a film starring Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games film adaptations).

I read this book on pulseit which I recommend to anyone who loves teen/young adult books. It (legally) provides a new book to read after every week or so and also provides excerpts of other books, interviews from the authors and a nice community where you can review the books. There are also giveaways if you live in the US and Canada. (I’m sad because I can’t participate in those!)

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Factory of Tears by Valzhyna Mort

‘Factory of Tears’ by Valzyhna Mort is a collection of poetry related to the language of her homeland; Belarusian. Like with all poetry, I’m starting to understand that I enjoy it a lot more when I hear it read aloud. Valzyhna Mort is well known for her readings of her work and if you have the chance to, you should definitely go to see those readings live (or click here to see her on youtube).

The pieces strongly relate to the death of languages and the rebirth of them. When she reads them aloud it’s obvious how strongly she feels about re-establishing Belarusian. Her slow and steady pace with emphasis on certain words creates a powerfully emotional reading. I have to admit that I didn’t know anything about Belarusian before reading this poetry and all of a sudden I find myself wishing that the language will continue to exist.

I think my favourite poem of hers from this collection has to be ‘Men.’ The rhythm of it is beautiful, the way it builds up, and the emotions are so powerful that even I couldn’t miss them when just reading it quietly to myself. I love the ending of it especially, ‘come back/ rescue me fine me/ in this plane wreck.’ I can just feel the emotion in each word of this poem and I felt that it deserved a special mention.

Although I did love this collection in the end, it did take a little while to get into it. I think it was definitely worth sticking with. My favourite kind of poetry is the kind that strikes with emotion and power and is understandable, so this collection was perfect. If people keep telling me to read this kind of poetry I’ll have to start admitting that I do like poetry after all.

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Liverpool Tate Museum

This is completely different from everything I usually review. We visited the Liverpool Tate gallery. The last time I visited, I was in Primary school and my only memory of it is laughing at a piece of artwork made up of a toilet. I don’t think the staff were amused. Before we visited we made a list of art we thought we’d see and most of them were right. It was the unpredictable pieces that I was the most interested in.

‘Century Rolls’ by Matt Saunders was the first piece to catch my eye. As we approached it we could see a crowd watching the video. They looked like frozen statues and it was eerie to see everyone looking so transfixed and rooted to the spot. The video was black and white and the images didn’t make much sense to me, but I soon found out why no one seemed to want to move. It was because the video was so hypnotic. I couldn’t look away or move away even when the movement of the video made me feel sick. Eventually, we all snapped out of it and moved on. We all agreed that it was a strange experience. I wouldn’t want to buy that DVD, but there were a few of Matt Saunders’ ink drawings that I found beautiful and wouldn’t mind hanging up in my room.

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(‘Century Rolls’ by Matt Saunders)

Another standout piece was ‘Dalam’ by Simryn Gill. I love photography and this is exactly the kind of photography I love the most. The piece was a collection of 258 photographs of different living rooms of Malaysian people left as they usually are. Once you look at it more closely you start to see photos of 258 different people and characters, rather than just empty rooms. It’s a perfect example of how a person’s house can reflect the personality of a person and their culture and lifestyle. I could have stood there looking at each photo individually, but it would have taken all day and we had more things to see.

Another piece was related to history and I thought the concept and idea was interesting and cleverly done. ‘Pacific’ by Yukinori Yanagi was probably my favourite piece that we saw. The piece showed 49 flags made out of coloured sand in Perspex boxes. The flags are all connected by history, particularly colonial powers and native populations. Ants had been let loose inside the piece and they had dug out tunnels through the piece and crossed from flag to flag. The patterns the ants had created were beautiful (those were some artistic ants) and the end result was a perfect representation of global migration. Yanagi has commented saying that ‘a nation, its border and national flag, has become an imaginary fiction.’

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(‘Pacific’ by Yukinori Yanagi)

Overall, I really enjoyed our day out to the Liverpool Tate. I think everyone has to visit at some point. I would definitely recommend it.

Rating 5/5

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New European Poets: Portugal

Okay, it looks like I chose the lazy option by choosing the first country in the anthology, but I promise you that it was just my favourite section. Portuguese poetry in ‘New European Poets’ stood out to me because I prefer more straightforward poetry with emotion and clear imagery, rather than a more obscure style, which I found a lot of other countries had.

During the twentieth century, poets such as Fernando Pessoa started to experiment with different styles. He was known for having a number of different heteronyms, or alter egos, in his work, often even having many heteronyms in one poem. In fact, ‘it is sometimes said that the four greatest Portuguese poets of modern times are Fernando Pessoa,’ [x] because of his use of those heteronyms. Portuguese poets have since experimented with various styles and subjects so that now there is a broad range of different poetry from Portugal.

Though I didn’t find much about what the Portuguese style of poetry is, I did find some information about an example of a style that doesn’t follow the traditional style. Sometimes it’s best to figure out what something isn’t to work out what it is. Adília Lopes seems to be quite a controversial poet in Portugal. Her poem, ‘Elisabeth Doesn’t Work Here Anymore’ is featured in the anthology. Adília Lopes’ style is ‘full of word games, idioms, references to Portuguese proverbs, sayings, children’s songs and historical events.’ [x] She also borrows from other poets in a collage-like approach. Some of ‘Elisabeth Doesn’t Work Here Anymore’ is taken from the American poet, Anne Sexton. Although ‘many readers and critics had their doubts’ [x] about her poetry, I personally enjoyed ‘Elisabeth Doesn’t Work Here Anymore’ and would read more poems from her.

Hopefully, my research paid off and now we all know a little more.

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Review: Last Evenings on Earth by Roberto Bolaño: Days of 1978

Roberto Bolaño’s collection of short stories, ‘Last Evenings on Earth’ is filled with tales in which the narrators are threatened somehow, set in a turbulent time in Chilean history. Paraphrasing from the New Yorker podcast, “the shorter works and longer works come together as a whole.” Even after only reading this book, it is obvious that all of the stories link together in some way.

In the story, ‘Days of 1978’ the narrator, B, attends a family party and becomes almost obsessed with his hatred of the character, U, which turns into interest over time. The use of ‘B’ and ‘U’ as names is quite common throughout the entire collection and it just adds to the overall mystery of the style. This technique is one of many which make it difficult to know whether the stories are entirely fictional or somewhat based on the life of the author. As with many of the other stories, B seems to hold himself in greater light than the other characters and dislikes having to interact with them. When he does interact, Roberto Bolaño uses indirect speech, another of the techniques seen throughout the collection.

If you really enjoy stories with a lot of action, or any action at all, this might not be the book for you. There is a lack of action throughout this collection and a lot of description and reflection. It’s almost a ‘Waiting for Godot’ style. The characters seem to be wandering without much direction or purpose. Personally, I really loved this aspect. The stories were dreamlike or like reflecting on my own memories. Sometimes I would stop reading and have no idea how the character got from one place to the next. The scenes seem to shift into one another as though sifting through memories and for me this is an entirely realistic style.

I think this line from ‘Days of 1978’ describes my feelings for this book much better than I can – “This is where the story should end, but life is not as kind as literature.” The stories do not follow conventional story-telling. They don’t seem to begin at the beginning or end at the end, but I think there’s something beautiful about this style that reflects reality so well.

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Play Review: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

When ‘Waiting for Godot’ was first explained to me, I instantly connected it to La Haine, because we’d watched it a few weeks earlier. The whole idea of waiting around with not much of a purpose, for something to happen that will never happen, and the tragedy that comes with that is, I feel, one of the central themes of both Waiting for Godot and La Haine. Although, of course, Waiting for Godot came first and Samuel Beckett made it the clear theme by creating a play in which nothing at all happens.

I was told that I would either love or hate this play and I thought I hated it when I started to read it the first time. I put it down and came back to it, and this time, I watched a version of the play and read along to it. I’ll admit that it’s grown on me, now that I gave it another go. Regardless of whether I loved or hated the concept, I loved the characters anyway. The chemistry between Vladimir and Estragon is so realistic, warm and sometimes funny, that I found it hard to hate them at all, even though I hated the idea that they were trapped in a play with no events to move it along. I wasn’t convinced that the dialogue was completely realistic, but then I really listened to conversations I have, and realised that we all sound just as seemingly random and somehow still manage to communicate something.

I think what I love most about Waiting for Godot, is that it seems to have an infinite number of interpretations. In his review of the Ian Brown production, Alfred Hickling, says that, “There’s a danger that pinning the play down to a single meaning might diminish its overall relevance,” and I completely agree with that. I think that this play can have a different meaning to it for every different person who sees it. I even changed my mind on the meaning of it when I read it the second time. I think that’s part of the fun of reading it or seeing it (if you like it). I find it funny that I automatically tried to give meaning to a play which the author has repeatedly denied as having any meaning at all.

Rating: 4/5

So, now I’m curious… whether you like it, or not, what is your interpretation of the play?

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Book Review: Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck

There were certain chapters of ‘Visitation’ by Jenny Erpenbeck that I really loved and will definitely read again in the future, however I found some parts of the book very difficult to engage with.

The book’s main ‘character’ is a house and the stories centre around the lives of all the characters who live in the house throughout the years. The chapters vary between the life of the gardener, who along with the house, seems to be the only constant in the chaotic years surrounding the second world war.

I noticed a lot of repetition throughout the stories, especially during the Gardener’s chapters. I found this quite comforting in a book which focused on hardships and I felt that the determination of the gardener to look after the house, despite the trauma the country is going through. However, sometimes the amount of repetition combined with the poetic style had me impatiently skipping through some lines.

It was the poetic style which made it difficult for me to read. The sentence structures were complex and it made the book feel a little disjointed at times. I also felt that the stories skipped around a lot and it was hard to understand what time frame it had jumped to and which characters I was reading about.

Despite this, there were a few stories which really stood out to me because of the emotions they created. The chapter in which the young girl hid in a small closet in order to escape the soldiers had me tense the whole way through, and I found the description in this chapter particularly wonderful. The way Erpenbeck describes the darkness in contrast to her vivid memories of the sounds and smells of playing outside made for a heart breaking chapter.

Rating: ★★★

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Film Review: No

‘No’ is the kind of film I never would have gone to see before last week. The description on IMDb reads, ‘An ad executive comes up with a campaign to defeat Augusto Pinochet in Chile’s 1988 referendum.’ Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found myself getting caught up in the drama and the politics.

I liked the main character René because he appeared as human, with good qualities and flaws to go along with them. The main quality I liked was his quiet confidence and belief in the campaign, which I felt was reflected through the overall understated tone of the film. I also loved René’s son and every time the tension started to build I found myself hoping that his son would be okay, despite the danger his father’s involvement in the ‘No’ campaign put him in.

I loved the use of subtext used in this film. I’m used to being told everything (repeatedly) by the characters when I go to watch a film and it can get annoying fast. I was able to piece things together for myself, for example it isn’t confirmed that his son is actually his son, or that he has had romantic relations with Verónica until around half way through, but it was given away in a subtle way before it was ever addressed directly. I definitely enjoyed this aspect of ‘No’ because it made the dialogue and the scenes much more realistic.

Another way the film felt realistic was through the use of the camera. I always felt as though I could be walking right next to the characters. It was a combination of all the little things, like showing the sun glares behind the characters and the quiet building of tension, that made me enjoy ‘No.’

Rating: ★★★★

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Film Review: Rise of the Guardians

When I first saw the trailer for this film, I knew I was going to go and see it at some point. The animation looked amazing and the story intrigued me. It sort of mirrors the Avengers but instead of superheroes we have legendary figures – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost, all working together to defeat the evil Bogeyman.

The animation definitely lived up to expectations throughout the film. I loved the level of detail and quality. The effects of Jack Frost’s snow and ice, the sandman’s dreams and the bogeyman’s nightmares made the film colourful and magical to watch.

Image(Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine)

As far as character designs go, I loved how they used unconventional designs for the guardians. It definitely set the film apart from the usual Christmas films about Santa and elves. I especially loved the Russian, sword-wielding, tattooed, and technologically advanced Santa Claus.

The characters aren’t just pretty faces though, while some are more rounded than others, I found myself sympathising with all of them. I was getting involved in their back-stories, wanting them to do the right thing and feeling genuinely concerned when they were in danger. The only downside to this was also feeling the same way about the bad guy, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t supposed to happen.

There were some funny lines, but I wouldn’t say they were laugh out loud moments. Obviously, the humour is aimed at kids and I’m sure they’d find it hilarious. There weren’t a lot of hidden ‘grown-up’ jokes like you might find in Shrek. However, there was one part involving one of the elves that made me laugh for way longer than it probably should have. I won’t spoil it.

The only bad thing I can say about this film is that it was predictable in some places (the most predictable being that the bad guy is, of course, British). And yes, it is pretty much another of those ‘I do believe in fairies, I do, I do’ kind of Christmas films. I could guess pretty easily what was about to happen. But again, this is for kids and as far as plots go, I would say this is a good one for the type of film it is, with enough twists and turns to set it apart from the others.

Overall, I think it’s a great film and it definitely filled me up with excitement for winter and Christmas.

Rating: ❅❅❅❅

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